PIÑON CANYON MANEUVER SITE, Colo. — December is not only a month for holiday parties, eggnog, hanging lights and shopping for gifts, it is also the month for the world’s longest running citizen science survey, the National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count (CBC). Directorate of Public Works (DPW) staff assigned at Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site (PCMS) participated in the annual survey by hosting their fifth CBC Dec. 15, 2022.
Starting in 1900, the CBC is now in its 123rd year with over 72,000 volunteers in more than 2,400 locations across the Western Hemisphere. Volunteers record all birds observed within a 15-mile diameter circle called a count circle. The data collected helps scientists assess the health of North America’s bird population over space and time, monitor the impact and spread of non-native bird species, and detect changes in migration patterns.
Colorado has over 50 count circles, including one at Fort Carson and one at PCMS. The PCMS circle encompasses a wide variety of terrain including canyons, arroyos, juniper spotted hillsides and short grass prairie.
The PCMS CBC, which included 13 Colorado birders, started out chilly, but as the day progressed the winds increased and the temperatures dropped, creating challenging survey conditions. The volunteers braved the elements and covered 141 miles both on foot and in vehicles, and combined, surveyed for more than 14 hours.
The group recorded 46 different species of birds and 2,062 individual birds. The most common species was the horned lark, followed by junco, robin, Townsend solitaire, American goldfinch, American tree sparrow and mountain bluebird. Several raptor species were observed including golden eagle, merlin, kestrel, prairie falcon, roughleg hawk, ferruginous hawk and red-tailed hawk. Other interesting birds noted included the ladderback woodpecker, loggerhead shrike, scaled quale, Woodhouse scrub jay, snow goose and a lone greater roadrunner.
Compared to past years, the number of different species observed doubled and the number of individual birds seen quadrupled, but that is likely because there were twice the number of volunteers in 2022, thus a greater amount of land was covered.
The CBCs are just one of the many ways PCMS DPW wildlife biologists support the bird population on the maneuver site. They also conduct nightjar surveys, raptor nest surveys and spring acoustic monitoring surveys.
Artificial nest boxes have been installed in windmills located throughout PCMS, and 25 cavity nest boxes were constructed in trees to provide homes for several species of cavity nesting birds.
Many birds are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Therefore, to ensure compliance with these federal regulations, biologists ensure there are no nesting birds present before a project is started, and they place buffers around active golden eagle eyries.
People interested in participating in next year’s PCMS CBC, can contact Michelle Blake at firstname.lastname@example.org. Volunteers do not need to have any prior birding experience as they will be teamed up with more experienced birders. For other bird counts in Colorado visit https://www.audubon.org/conservation/science/christmas-bird-count.