Photo: Ilana DeBare
Birders participating in last year’s Christmas Bird Count. Photo: Ilana DeBare
Birders participating in last year’s Christmas Bird Count. Photo: Ilana DeBare

If you live near Claremont Canyon and hear unusual activity at 4 a.m. on Sunday morning, rest assured that it’s a group of birders out owling.

The early-morning owl spotting will kick off a busy day for local birders, engaged in the Audubon Society’s annual Christmas bird count, run by the Golden Gate Audubon Society. Berkeley is included in the 74th Oakland bird count, which encompasses a 15-mile diameter circle from Treasure Island, to the San Pablo Reservoir, to St. Mary’s College to the Oakland airport. All of Berkeley is included in the count circle. The count typically records more than 170 species

“The middle of winter is a good time to gauge the populations of resident birds and wintering migrants, wherever they come from,” said Dave Quady, co-compiler of the Oakland count. “It’s a good time to learn about the populations without having to guess at how the numbers people find are affected by ongoing migration. The fact that the same area is censused as best people can year after year, provides the longest ongoing study of bird populations in the US of any project.”

Quady said that over 200 people will participate in this year’s count, from beginner to birders to vastly experienced ones.

The Oakland count, according to Quady, provides a fascinating record of bird population increases and decreases.

The first wild turkey, for example, was spotted in 2002. Last year, 238 wild turkeys were counted.

“We counted one bird in 2002,” Quady said. “We considered it a rare bird. A year after that it wasn’t so rare. A year after that it was humdrum.”

Quady also cites the Red-shouldered Hawk — “a small, beautiful hawk that is comfortable in oaks” — as showing healthy growth, as have crows and ravens. One non-native that is on the increase is the Eurasian Collared-Dove.

“Two years ago it first occurred [in our local count] and it is a non-native species that has colonized the state more rapidly than any other in history, even house sparrows or starlings,” he said. “We had 18 last year, and we expect more. It’s now in every county in the state.”

But some species are declining, particularly among waterfowl. Quady cites the Ruddy Turnstone, which specializes in rocky shorelines, as being notable for its local decline.

The Audubon Christmas bird count was started in 1900 as an alternative to the custom of a Christmas bird shoot. It has become the country’s leading example of citizen science — ordinary citizens collecting data that can be used by scientists in monitoring wildlife population trends. Last year there were 2,369 local counts involving 71,531 people who tallied over 60 million birds of 2,296 different species. The Oakland count tallied 178 species and just over 100,000 individual birds.

Interested in learning to bird? Golden Gate Audubon offers birding classes and over 100 free bird walks each year. Visit Golden Gate Audubon online for information.

First local sighting of Painted Redstart brings birders to Berkeley (11.18.13)
Christmas bird count is not just for birds (12.18.13)
In a Berkeley park a bluebird displays unusual behavior (08.05.13)
Lynxes of the bird world: Cooper’s hawks nest in Berkeley (04.18.13)
The mystery and thrill: Shorebirds enjoy winter in Berkeley (03.21.13)
Rare bluebird sightings bring happiness in a Berkeley park (08.07.12)

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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...