This time of year is for the birds, as far as the National Audubon Society is concerned.
The society has undertaken annual Christmas bird counts since 1900, collecting data to assess the health of bird populations and to help guide conservation action.
This year's bird count is the 113th to be conducted, but it’s the first for volunteers organized by the Fern Hollow Nature Center in Sewickley Heights. They’ll gather early Saturday to keep their eyes on the sky.
“We were approached last year by a gentleman who that has run, organized and participated in the Christmas bird count for the last 35 years,” explained Stacey Widenhofer, environmental educator at the nature center.
John Orndorff had served as the leader, or count compiler, for the Franklin Park-Ohio Township count circle, a 15-mile-diameter area for data collection. He will participate again this year, with Widenhofer assuming the role of leader.
“He asked us—Fern Hollow—if we would like to take over the organization of his portion of the count,” she said. “I was honored to go out with him last year, and with his help I have been able to organize this year’s count.”
The effort has met with a good response.
“We have about 10 to 12 people who are coming to help, some coming as far as Freeport, because they just love birding,” Widenhofer said.
Those who are interested can participate by calling the nature center at 412-741-7536.
Volunteers will meet there at 7:30 a.m. Saturday. They will travel to various destinations within the count circle to keep track of the birds they view, breaking for lunch and concluding by mid-afternoon.
The results will be compiled the following day, along with data gathered by other volunteers throughout southwestern Pennsylvania.
Some of the birds that maintain a strong winter presence around the area include cardinals, chickadees, finches and bluebirds, along with some robins, although their numbers seem to be decreasing.
The data collected allow researchers and conservation biologists to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America, according to the National Audubon Society’s website. The long term perspective made possible by the bird count helps identify environmental issues with implications for people, as well.
Fern Hollow Nature Center is hosting another bird-related event next week: Pennsylvania’s Amazing Owls. Bob Van NewKirk, a volunteer with the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania, will present the 90-minute program starting at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 5.
Featured will be live owls from WildBird Recovery in Valencia. Following the indoor portion of the program, participants will be led on a short hike on the nature center property to call for owls.
Registration is necessary by calling the nature center.