January 2, 2005
The holiday season is a favorite time of year for many of the Valley’s bird-watching enthusiasts. Just before and after Christmas and New Year’s Day they get opportunities to turn their pastime into real science by taking part in the Audubon Society’s national bird count.
The data they collect — along with information from almost 2,000 other bird counts in North, Central and South America — helps Audubon Society researchers develop an annual snapshot of wildlife habitat conditions across the American continents, said Scottsdale resident Walter Thurber, who has led bird counts in the north East Valley for the past 13 years.
On Monday he will oversee about 100 volunteer counters who will fan out in and around Cave Creek, Carefree and north Scottsdale to take a tally of which species are in winter residence in the area.
It’s the best time to make the count "because the birds are pretty much sitting tight in their wintering ground. The fall migrations are over and it’s too early for the spring migrations,’’ Thurber said.
Last year’s north East Valley survey found 102 species. It discovered two types of birds making first appearances: The olive warbler and the members of the Pyrrhulloxia species, which normally would not be found in the Valley’s Sonoran Desert surroundings.
"When you take the counts in the same areas every year you can begin to discern the trends in the rise or fall of certain species" and changes in migration patterns, Thurber said.
Studying those trends has helped scientists do things such as track and predict the spread of West Nile virus across the United States, or monitor climate changes, said Troy Corman, an avian biologist for the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
Examining bird populations also can provide early indications about changes in regional ecological health conditions and the potential affects on human habitats, Corman said.
Find out more
For information about the Audubon Society’s annual north East Valley bird count, call (480) 483-6450.