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Tired of Counting Sheep? Count Birds Instead This Sunday in Memphis

A flock made up of Snow, Ross's and Greater White-fronted Geese.
Courtesy of Cameron Rutt
A flock made up of Snow, Ross's and Greater White-fronted Geese.

Local birdwatchers will grab their binoculars and look to the skies on Sunday as part of an annual citizen-led survey known as the Christmas Bird Count.

It’s a long-running effort that first began in 1900 spurred by increasing awareness of declining bird populations, according to the National Audubon Society.

That year a small group of birdwatchers in 25 different locations– mostly in the northeastern U.S. – conducted a Christmas day bird census that the Audubon Society says was designed to encourage people to “count birds during the holidays rather than hunt them.”

The event eventually expanded across the western hemisphere, including to Memphis. Now, for the 95th year, local volunteers are tallying the number of individuals and species they observe in a designated area on Sunday.

The count takes place within a 15-mile circle that encompasses most of the I-240 loop. Prime bird-spotting locations include Shelby Farms and Overton Park.

Scientists and conservationists are then able to use the citizen collected data.

A LeConte's Sparrow found in Shelby Farms.
Courtesy of Cameron Rutt
A LeConte's Sparrow at Shelby Farms.

“It’s very important because basically it helps us to get a good grip on bird populations [and] relative declines from year to year, decade to decade,” says Jim Varner, the head of the Memphis Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society.

Last year close to 40 people participated and detected more than 110 species, a record for the local count.

Varner says it’s a good chance for beginners to explore a budding interest alongside more seasoned observers.

“Anybody is welcome to participate,” he says. “We have some people who the only birds they know are the Thanksgiving turkey, the Christmas goose and the Kentucky fried chicken.”

More information on how to participate can be found on the Tennessee Ornithological Society’s website.

“It’s a lot of fun. You get outdoors. It’s good for your mental health,” Varner adds. “It’s really an intellectual exercise. The more you bird, the more there is to learn.”

Katie is a part-time WKNO contributor. She's always eager to hear your story ideas. You can email her at kriordan@wkno.org