The annual Cortez Christmas bird count will be held on Dec. 26, but with pandemic-related changes.
To protect against the spread of COVID-19, the event will not be an open-invitation gathering like during normal years, said organizer Jason St. Pierre.
A set number of small birding groups made up of people who live in the same household or are in regular contact have been assigned the eight established routes to survey for bird species.
The traditional early morning briefing at the Cortez Cultural Center and pairing up of novice and experienced birders from the public at large will not take place.
“Unfortunately, this year some people will be excluded from the tours, but it was necessary to prevent gatherings that could put people at risk,” St. Pierre said.
The local Christmas Bird Count records birds in a 15-mile radius of Cortez, including local orchards, lakes, open space, neighborhoods, forests and farms.
While the survey tours are filled, people can participate at home by recording bird species visiting outside feeders on Dec. 26. The data will be added to the final count. Bird feeder counters must reside within the 15-mile count area and obtain a data form to document the birds they see at feeders.
To participate as a backyard bird surveyor, contact St. Pierre at [email protected]
Winter bird counts happen all over the country. The results are submitted to the Audubon Society database and are analyzed to improve conservation efforts for bird species and their habitat. In 2018, there were 51 Christmas Bird Counts in Colorado.
The Cortez count has been held for 17 years, and continuously since 2007.
Winter birds often seen are ferruginous and rough-legged hawks, which migrate to the area from the north in the winter.
Other frequent sightings are great horned owls, wild turkeys, great blue herons, bald and golden eagles, red-tail hawks, waterfowl, jays, bluebirds, kingfishers, American kestrel, woodpeckers, falcons, wrens and many more.
The annual winter bird count is a “snapshot in time,” St. Pierre said, which provides valuable long-term data on populations, migratory changes and trends, presence of invasive species, new species for the area and the impacts of climate change on birds.
Christmas bird counts are a form of citizen science, in which amateur naturalists and experts help contribute to a nationwide database. The count is the nation’s longest-running community science bird project.
The Cortez count ranges between 5,000 and 10,000 individual birds each year. In its 17-year history, Cortez birders have counted 98,800 birds representing 121 species.
“We did not want to have a missing year in our Cortez data, so we went ahead with the event with the public safety changes. Hopefully next year’s count will be back to normal,” St. Pierre said.