Annual bird count encourages kids to flock to nature, conservation

Trupti Atkari's daughter, Anna, takes part in the bird count for kids.  (Jeorge Sadi/CBC - image credit)
Trupti Atkari's daughter, Anna, takes part in the bird count for kids. (Jeorge Sadi/CBC - image credit)

Usually people flock to Peggys Cove to see the iconic lighthouse, but on Saturday morning they were looking for something different.

Armed with binoculars and a photo identification guide, families searched the water for bird species and recorded what they found.

As part of the event, children were encouraged to participate.

The annual Christmas Bird Count is the longest-running citizen science project in North America, said Becky Parker, executive director of Nature Nova Scotia.

Every year on the same day, groups of volunteers in different regions go out and count as many birds as they can in the same 24-kilometre radius.

Jeorge Sadi/CBC
Jeorge Sadi/CBC

"The Christmas bird count since 1900 has been really valuable for generating oodles of data from sites across North America," Parker said.

The Nova Scotia counts take place between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5.

The data is then submitted to a database that can help researchers track each bird species. It's used in reports like The State of Canada's Birds.

This is the first time the count has been conducted at Peggys Cove. Close to 100 people showed up.

Parker said though the project has been going on for more than a century, the technique has modernized over time.

"Back in the day, it was a little less ethical of a count," she said.

"They used to shoot the birds out of the sky, create a big pile, and then have a competition with their friends and see who would get the most. So it did create some really interesting data, but we do things kind of differently today."

Jeorge Sadi/CBC
Jeorge Sadi/CBC

Guns are no longer involved, but the kids did borrow supplies to help them see the faraway birds.

"I did kind of see it with my monoculars, but it was black and it was too far away, so it was like a dot," said Diana Lee, age five.

That's why people like Jason Dain were on site to help identify things that may look like a black dot to the untrained eye.

"Today we had 18 species so far, which is pretty good for this time of year," said Dain, who is on the board of directors of the Nova Scotia Bird Society.

"We probably had a couple hundred individual birds today, so there was probably 30 harlequin ducks and probably a dozen or two dozen long-tailed ducks."

Dain said some of the species seen every year are common, but some are at risk, like the harlequin duck. He said over the years, he has noticed increasing numbers.

"It feels good, it's like you like to contribute to the data set and contribute to the population monitoring and they're such a beautiful duck," he said. "They have lots of character and lots of personality."

Jeorge Sadi/CBC
Jeorge Sadi/CBC

Trupto Atkari brought her two children to the count. They identified five species.

"I want them to learn about birds and nature, and they loved the program," Atkari said. "It was a great success."

Isabella Emberly, 8, said the event made her want to get outside more in the future.

Jeorge Sadi/CBC
Jeorge Sadi/CBC

"My mom probably just brought me here because we always stay inside and play the Nintendo Switch usually, and she always wants us to go out and take a walk, but I never want to," Emberly said.

Dain said it's important to get kids interested in animals and nature while they're young.

"Education and outreach is key," he said.

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