Birders out on a mission

Locals can explore bird habitats to aid Fish and Wildlife

— Birders will get an opportunity to get their binoculars out Saturday to help determine if the migratory bird population in the area is as healthy as it has been in previous years.

"We're trying to get people enthusiastic about these neat birds that live around here," said Ann Oliver, Northwest Colorado program manager of The Nature Conservancy.

Three different groups led by resident birders will explore a variety of bird habitats to compile the number of different bird populations in the area. Data collected will be sent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife office in Denver.

"(The Birth-A-Thon) celebrates Spring growth and counts how many birds have embarked on their journey to their breeding grounds," said Deborah Fuller, Yampatika executive director.

Changes in the number of species of birds seen in the area can be used as a warning for biologists and other groups to discover what problems are contributing to declining bird populations.

Oliver said neotropical birds that migrate to the tropics for the winter season and back to North America for the summer are being watched more closely now because of a decrease seen in certain species.

She said the data collected in the area over the past seven years hasn't been examined closely for trends but may not be a good indication of bird populations because of the limited number of years the survey has been done. She said with her involvement in the program over the years, she hasn't seen much of a change in the bird populations.

A change in the bird population, Oliver said, can be attributed to changes in a bird's winter or summer habitats.

Resident birders will lead their individual groups to separate areas that have a variety of bird habitats to get an accurate representation of the number of birds in the area.

Oliver said she will take her group out along the river at the Carpenter Ranch, a riparian forest, and will continue the walk in the oak and sagebrush, at a location higher on a hill above the river. She said small changes in a habitat can make large changes in the species of birds that can live in an area.

The types of birds seen in the sagebrush will differ from birds found in the oak brush a short distance away, Oliver said.

The types of birds native to the area is something all people participating in the event will learn.

"People learn how to identify them," Fuller said. "It's a fun thing."

The resident birders stay close to their groups to help identify any birds unknown to group members.

Fuller said people usually bring or borrow bird books for help in classifying the birds.

She said to give people additional training before the event, Yampatika is offering a "How to Be a Better Bird Watcher" class from 7 to 10 p.m. today at Centennial Hall. The class and Birth-A-Thon will give people the opportunity to learn how to identify the sex of a bird and its species.

Fuller said the event gives people the opportunity to learn from an expert while helping to determine if the local bird populations are thriving.

Oliver said the population of raptor birds (hawks, eagles and vultures) is an overall indication of the ecological health of an area.

She said because hawks, eagles and vultures are top predators, a diverse range of species needs to be present for their survival.

"We can have a better idea of how these species are doing in this area," she said.

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