From plentiful sparrows to rare short-eared owls, volunteers will assemble this weekend in an expanse of central Iowa prairie to count birds. Karen Viste-Sparkman, a biologist at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, says they’ll be sending out dozens of people to identify and count all feathered creatures they see over a seven-and-a-half square mile area.
Viste-Sparkman says they divide people up so there’s an experienced birder in each group, so the lesser-experienced people are paired up with those who are confident in identifying birds. They’ll all go to different areas of the vast refuge so the same birds aren’t counted twice. She says folks will assemble Saturday morning to take part in the historic count, which has been done annually for more than a century.
Viste-Sparkman says they’ll start at 8 o’clock and return about noon for lunch and then head back out for a few more hours. Last year, the so-called Christmas Bird Count drew 57-thousand counters across the U.S., Canada and parts of Central and South America. She says Iowa bird counters of all ages and skill levels are welcome to take part in this effort, during which they’re assured of learning all sorts of things about ornithology.
Viste-Sparkman says you might see a few thousand birds throughout the course of the count though the refuge generally is home to about 30 or 40 different species. You keep a tally as you walk and if you see a big flock, try to estimate the number. The information will be put into refuge, state and national databases for documenting bird movements and population trends over the course of years, decades and beyond. For details, contact (515) 994-3400.