Posted by Rob Ripma
As most birders know, the Christmas Bird Count season is upon us. Even though it’s typically cold and snowy here in Indiana for the counts, I look forward to them every December and always have. The only thing that has changed over the years is why I look forward to CBCs. When I first started birding, it was all about the competitive nature of the counts. Trying to beat previous records for the count or aiming for the high count in the state each year were my main motivations. I had a fantastic time chasing after the records and seeing some new birds in the process. But recently, I have been more focused on getting young birders out on the Christmas Bird Counts.
Starting in 2010, a friend of mine that is involved with local Boy Scout troops came up with an idea to offer the Bird Study Merit Badge as part of one of our local CBCs. It was such a huge success that we offered it again this year and had more demand for the class than we ever thought possible! Twenty-five boys participated in the class, and we unfortunately had to turn another 60 away for lack of space and available adult help. Kids are interested in birds, and we as adult birders need to do a better job of giving them to opportunity to get outside and learn.
Recently in Indiana a grand tradition has been started. On the first day of the CBC count window, the Goose Pond CBC is held. This count consistently has one of the highest species totals in the state and attracts some of the biggest names in birding
from around Indiana. I admittedly look forward to this count more than any other. This year, I had the opportunity to expose two of our Indiana Young Birders Club members to this count. Both are homeschooled, so the midweek count was not a problem, just in
case any of you thought I was helping them skip class to go birding. Both Landon and Chandler had only been to Goose Pond one time before and never in the winter, so there was a lot for them to learn.
Landon had decided to participate in the Goose Pond count a couple of months before the count, and every time I talked to him, he talked about how excited he was to be doing the count. Chandler was a late addition to the team but was equally excited even when I told him that he had to be at my house at 4:45am for the 2 hour drive to southwest Indiana. It is one thing to talk to young birders about birds and birding, but it’s very different to actually go out birding with them. In my experience, there always seems to be a level of excitement among the young birders that adults who have been birding for years and years rarely reach, and there’s also much less of a tendency for young birders to pass off a more common species as “just another cardinal”. Young birders will study even the more common birds in order to get a deeper understanding of the species and its habits - something I rarely see more veteran birders do in the field.
Over the course of the day, both young birders got a few life birds (Chandler had 11 and Landon had 4), met a ton of other birders that will prove to be a great resource for them over the years, and had a great time. It was the first time that Chandler had spent a whole day birding, and he can’t wait to do it again!
After such a successful season of getting young birders involved in Christmas Bird Counts, a group of us has been brainstorming ways to make next year’s counts even better. We plan to offer more merit badge classes next year and to add a Christmas Bird Count for Kids to one of our existing counts.
I say that it is time for all Christmas Bird Counts to consider how they can get kids involved in their counts. What does your local count do to attract young birders?
I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season and a great
start to 2012!