NM's bird watchers commence annual count of feathered friends


Volunteers fanning out across New Mexico to help the Audubon Society add to more than 120 years' worth of data about bird populations.

Cathy Wise, community science manager for Audubon Southwest, said each of the 35 counts in the state takes place in an established 15-mile diameter circle, with volunteers counting every bird they see or hear throughout the day. She has participated in the winter count for more than 20 years, which occurs in the U.S. and at least 20 other countries.

"It may not seem like much over one year, but over 20 years, 30 years, 40 years it's really meaningful," Wise pointed out. "It's provided Audubon with the opportunity to say some significant things about climate shifts and changes in bird distribution."

The conservation group's 124th annual Christmas Bird Count runs through Jan. 5.

Wise suggested if you have a houseful of relatives for the holidays, it is a great opportunity to find a bird count near you, and either escape by yourself for the peace and quiet or get everyone involved.

"There is kind of a magic about the season," Wise explained. "You typically will meet up at a restaurant, a local restaurant, everyone gathers up and they talk about their adventures of the day and it's fun. It's a community thing."

In recent decades, ornithologists have noted a widespread decline of North American house sparrows, with populations plummeting 84% since 1966. Except for one, said Wise, which has not only adapted its diet but proved more opportunistic than others sparrows.

"We call it the 'French Fry Sparrow,' and they're increasing," Wise emphasized. "They are doing well because they eat at McDonald's with us."

Experts noted New Mexico's ongoing drought conditions have pushed certain bird species away to find new homes with more water.