New bird watchers join the annual Christmas bird count with experienced birders Marian Eason (middle left) and Donna Neuneker (middle right). [Nick Eason / Moab Bird Club]

Birds are counted throughout North and South America each Christmas as part of a citizen survey sponsored by the National Audubon Society.

The Moab Bird Club will host a Christmas Bird Count on Saturday, Dec. 14. The club will divide into 12 bird counting groups in order to “search every bush, tree, field and cliff” within a 15-mile radius of Shrimp Rock in the Sand Flats Recreation Area.

Newcomers are welcome, said Marian Eason, a member of the Moab Bird Club. “Novices are placed with seasoned birders and all are welcome.”

The Christmas Bird Count began with the tradition of Christmas “side hunts” where North American hunters would compete to see who could kill the most birds. Frank Chapman, an ornithologist and officer of the newly formed Audubon National Society, proposed counting birds on Christmas instead of killing birds in 1900.

There were 27 bird counters in 25 locations in North America in 1900. Now there are tens of thousands of bird counters stretching through both North and South America who participate in bird counts between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5 each year.

This is the 114th year the National Audubon Society has sponsored the annual count. It relies on volunteer “citizen scientists”, in 15 countries, to record the number of different species observed, as well as count the numbers of those present. The data collected will be added to a huge database, which will show where winter bird populations are located. Trends will be noted and analyzed by professional scientists.

The first Christmas Bird Count in Moab was held in 1984 with just a “handful of birders,” Eason said.

Here in Moab, teams will be assigned an area and will spend most of the day in the field. Each team is given a data sheet for recording species and numbers. A designated recorder tallies species and their numbers. The actual official day count time lasts for 24 hours.

“We want a general idea of birds in the area,” said Marcy Hafner, a member of the Moab Bird Club. “The bird migration is over, but birds are moving all the time. And that is one of purposes of the bird count. To see what is going through on migrations.”

The Moab count circle includes most of the Moab Valley, portions of Castle Valley, Spanish Valley and stretches of the Colorado River. The numbers collected will be added to a giant data base, which enable scientists to have a better understanding of early winter bird populations and changes that might occur. Counters not only note each species seen, but how many of each species.

Bird species not seen on count day may be counted if seen within a period of three days before or three days after the official day. This allows a few extra days to look for those species that might normally be seen but don’t show up on the designated day.

Marian and Nick Eason are team leaders for the Moab west side section during the count. This area is from the west side cliffs in the Westwood subdivision to south of Boulder Street.

“I am amazed at the number of American robins we have in the Moab Valley,” said Marian Eason said. “Last year we estimated 690 robins in our section.”

Eason said that each team hopes for rare birds, but common winter birds are the norm.

“American robins are here year round, and in very large numbers during the winter. They are frequently found hanging out in the Russian olive groves around town, where the berries are one of their favorite foods.”

The Yellow-rumped warbler, is also often seen on the Christmas Bird Count, Eason said.

“This warbler is one of the few of its species living further north, in colder temperatures, surviving on berries. Locally, they feed on Russian olive berries, juniper berries and the berries of the Virginia Creeper, which are common in residential areas around town,” Eason said.

The best part of the count, she said, are the raptors.

“Finding hawks, of any kind, is always a thrill,” she said.

Last year the Moab Bird Club had 50 volunteers in 12 groups. Sixty-nine different species of birds were spotted. Some of the rarer birds found included eared grebe, snow goose, rough-legged hawk, merlin, hermit thrush and northern shrike.

A post-count potluck brunch will be held for participants at The Nature Conservancy office at 10 a.m., Sunday, Dec. 15. Notes will be compared, and a preliminary review of count numbers will be presented.

The Moab Bird Club was organized in the early 1990s. Meetings are held the third Tuesday of each month and are open to anyone.

“We are a loosely organized group,” Eason said. “There are no officers, no dues.”

They have regularly scheduled field trips and have been organizing the Moab Christmas Bird count for years.

Audubon’s annual Christmas Bird Count this Saturday

“Last year we estimated 690 robins in our section.”

When: 8 a.m., Saturday, Dec. 14

Where: 12 locations in the Moab-area

Contact Marcy Hafen by phone 435-259-6197 or email marcymoab@yahoo.com to be assigned to a group

When: 10 a.m., Sunday, Dec. 15

Where: The Nature Conservancy office, 820 Kane Creek Blvd