For some, Christmas is a time to count your blessings — and to count your birds. The Wrangell community is once again participating in the Audubon Society’s Annual Christmas Bird Count. The nationwide bird count began 113 years ago and provides scientists a long-term, wide-ranging look at what’s happening with bird populations around the nation. Ornithologists say that birds are indicator species, meaning that changes in bird populations can indicate larger ecosystem and climate changes.
Wrangellites have participated in the count for at least 10 years. This year, Bonnie Demerjian is coordinating the event on December 29. The count for Wrangell includes a seven-mile radius around Shoemaker Bay. Demerjian said most of the birds in winter are in town or on the water and if the weather is good, people like to scour the shorelines in boats.
Though birders look forward to seeing local species like cormorants and juncos, Demerjian said that are discouraged by invasives, like European Starlings. “I think their numbers are growing slowly. They’re one of the birds that you’re not really delighted to see on your bird count because they can really take over spaces and food sources that more indigenous birds use.”
Birders will also be looking for a new invasive that arrived in the area about five years ago – the Eurasian Collared-Dove. “We have seen quite a few of them in the summer and now we’ll probably see a few that have wintered over,” Demerjian said. They were first spotted in during the winter count near Petersburg and Juneau in 2009.
The doves were introduced to the Caribbean through the pet bird trade in the 1970s and reached Florida by the early 1980s. They started summering in Alaska just in the past decade. Ornithologists from Project Feeder Watch are concerned that the doves might stick around all winter in further and further north locations and compete with local birds for the limited winter resources.
Demerjian is still looking for Christmas Bird Count participants to either join existing groups out in the community or to count the birds in their own yards. She can be reached at 874-3665.