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Annual national holiday bird count underway in Oklahoma

Rusty blackbirds are sometimes confused with several species but can be distinguished by the following features. The Brewer’s blackbird has no rusty breast, belly or sides. The common grackle has a long, rudder-like tail. The European starling has a speckled appearance.
Jeff Flinn
/
ODWC
Rusty blackbirds are sometimes confused with several species but can be distinguished by the following features. The Brewer’s blackbird has no rusty breast, belly or sides. The common grackle has a long, rudder-like tail. The European starling has a speckled appearance.

The annual national holiday bird count got underway in Oklahoma last weekend. It is the longest running community science program in the world and organized by the National Audubon Society.

This year marks the 124th Christmas Bird Count. The first events took place in Tulsa and Oklahoma City last weekend. Tulsa has the longest-running holiday bird count in Oklahoma, which began in 1930. Participants count all the birds they see or hear in 24 hours within a 15-mile radius mapped out by The National Audubon Society.

The National Audubon Society organizes every Christmas count. This holiday tradition replaced the Christmas “side hunt” held before the turn of the 20th century where hunters would collect the feathers of the birds they killed.

Frank Chapman, an ornithologist and early officer for the Audubon Society, noticed a rapid decline in bird populations in 1900. That’s when Chapman proposed an event for people to count and watch birds instead of hunting them, according to the Audubon Society.

Jeff Cox is an experienced birder living in Tulsa. He said all native and non-native species of birds are counted, but he’s hoping to see a rare rusty blackbird.

“It's not on the endangered species list, but it's a species ornithologists are paying closer attention to because their populations have diminished quite a bit in the last 50 or 60 years,” Cox said. “And they don't nest here. They're only here in winter.”

This year’s count started Dec. 14 and runs through Jan. 5, and includes Tulsa and Oklahoma City.

In Oklahoma, the bird count is important for monitoring tallgrass prairie birds, according to the Department of Conservation.

Mark Mowery is a wildlife diversity biologist for the department and leads the bird count that happens in Norman. He said the surveys usually take place in parks and conservation areas, but surveys can even happen in your own backyard.

“Chances are your yard is part of the circle. And so one way to kind of begin that participation process is just to volunteer as a feeder watcher and watch birds in your yard for a few hours,” he said.

The Norman bird count takes place on New Year’s Eve from dawn until dusk. More details can be found on Audubon's website.

StateImpact Oklahoma is a partnership of Oklahoma’s public radio stations which relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online.

Britny reported for StateImpact Oklahoma with an emphasis on science and environment.
StateImpact Oklahoma reports on education, health, environment, and the intersection of government and everyday Oklahomans. It's a reporting project and collaboration of KGOU, KOSU, KWGS and KCCU, with broadcasts heard on NPR Member stations.
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