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Birders to Track Species in World's Longest-Standing Citizen Science Project

The Saturday after Christmas, flocks of area volunteers will scour the region tallying birds as part of the 115th Christmas Bird Count Report.

The annual event organized by the Audubon Society boasts the longest-standing citizen science project. Last year 183 residents Pittsburgh area residents traveled 181 miles by foot and 250 by car to count 66 species and 46,577 birds.

Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania operations director Brian Shema said the 115-year-long data set provides a clear picture of the region’s birds.

“We can literally look at information such as bird population trends," Shema said. "We can look at actual population movements where birds are actually responding to changes in the environment and their ranges are moving.”

While the colder weather can impact how many birds they see, Shema said he doesn’t expect to spot many birds such as the white-throated sparrow that occasionally visits from the north.

“There are occasions where we do get a number of birds from the north that will dip down to Pennsylvania even further south to escape very harsh winters or low food resources in the north. This does not appear to be one of those years so we will probably not be finding things like a crossbill or grosbeaks.”

Shema says volunteers don’t have to be avid bird watchers to help with the data set.

“Having people that are capable of pointing out birds is the most important part," he said. "Because in many places we can pair a person with a group of people and that group of people will have avid bird watchers that can easily identify the bird.”

The most commonly spotted bird last year was the American Crow with 32,913 tallied. Shema said many common birds can be tracked by people who have feeders in their yards.

“It provides an immense amount of coverage for us when we have people watching feeders across the area,” he said.

The Audubon Society offers training sessions for those who want to know more about birding or help in the Christmas Bird Tally.