Annual Bird Counts Give Scientists Climate Clues
Armed with flashlights, recordings of bird calls, a small notebook and a stash of candy bars, scientist Rich Kostecke embarked on an annual 24-hour Christmastime count of birds along the Texas Gulf Coast. Yellow rail. Barn owl. Bittern. Crested Cara-Cara. Kostecke rattled off the names and scribbled them in his notebook.
His data, along with that from more than 50 other volunteers spread out into six groups across the 7,000-acre Mad Island preserve, will be analyzed regionally and then added to a database with the results of more than 2,200 other bird counts going on from mid-December to Jan. 5 across the Western Hemisphere.
The count began in 1900 as a National Audubon Society protest of holiday hunts that left piles of bird and animal carcasses littered across the country. It now helps scientists understand how birds react to short-term weather events and may provide clues as to how they will adapt as temperatures rise and climate changes.
“Learning the changes of habit in drought could help us know what will happen as it gets warmer and drier,” said Kostecke, a bird expert and associate director of conservation, research and planning at the Nature Conservancy in Texas.