The Mitchell area is home to 49 species of birds. We know because someone counted

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The ninth annual Christmas Bird Count took place on Sunday, tasking passionate Mitchell-area volunteers to identify how many different species of birds – and how many birds of those species – they can find.

The count has two main purposes. The first is to show neighborhood residents what they’re missing out on when they don’t stop to look around.

Jeff Hansen, data compiler for Mitchell’s Christmas Bird Count for the past nine years, said people miss the vast majority of different bird species because they just aren’t looking for them.

“Most of the time we’re going to miss it all because people aren’t paying attention. Just the fact that there are up to 50 species of birds at this time of year, when in reality they only see one or two, ”said Hansen. “In Mitchell you see pigeons, but when you go out into the country and go to the right places, we often get bald eagles, we get wild turkeys. “

The other objective is to maintain some form of historical record of species that are regularly or rarely present in the region.

“It gives you a record of what’s here because if you don’t, then you don’t know what’s there. It gives a benchmark, ”said Hansen. “What’s pretty cool is comparing it from year to year. “

The 2020 bird count, which was carried out on Saturday, December 26, 2020, found a total of 14,733 birds in a variety of 49 different species – of which nearly 70% were red-shouldered blackbirds.

A common kestrel, the smallest and most common in North America, perches on an overhead power line after feeding on loose corn near the CHS elevator in Mitchell on Sunday, December 26, 2021. Hunter Dunteman / Mitchell Republic

A common kestrel, the smallest and most common in North America, perches on an overhead power line after feeding on loose corn near the CHS elevator in Mitchell on Sunday, December 26, 2021. Hunter Dunteman / Mitchell Republic

Last year’s tally also counted three new species. For the first time, bird watchers saw a spotted tohi, Carolina wren, and red crossbill.

“It’s far west or north for some of them, so it was quite unusual,” Hansen said. “Caroline Wren, someone near Vermillion catches them, and even then they’re considered rare.” For them, being in Mitchell is even rarer.

Hansen said the weather for the season and the day of the count play a role in the accuracy of the counts.

“We’ve been so sweet this year so I don’t know what we’ll see,” said Hansen. “If it’s really cold and all the water freezes, it has an effect on the waterfowl.”

In recent years, Hansen said open water near the Mitchell Lake spillway and along streams in the area has led to sightings of ducks that do not normally reside in the area at this time of year. .

“Obviously, when it snows a lot, it sometimes pushes certain birds on the roads. When there is no snowfall, they may be in fields where you cannot see them. If there is sometimes a lot of wind, it has an effect because the birds are not outside, ”said Hansen. “A lot of it depends on the weather depending on the day of the event.”

It’s not just the local weather that can have an effect.

“It also depends on what’s north of here. If they have open water to the north, a lot of species can stay up there, ”Hansen said. “It’s just a little hard to predict.”

A lack of protection from the strong gusts of wind on Sunday, December 26, 2021 likely contributed to this bird's nest being empty as bird lovers in the area conduct Mitchell's annual Christmas bird count.  Hunter Dunteman / Mitchell Republic

A lack of protection from the strong gusts of wind on Sunday, December 26, 2021 likely contributed to this bird’s nest being empty as bird lovers in the area conduct Mitchell’s annual Christmas bird count. Hunter Dunteman / Mitchell Republic

On count day, this year’s group of volunteers – some of whom came from Rapid City and Lincoln, Nebraska – were assigned to one of six zones within a 15 mile radius of Mitchell, whose center is at pretty much downtown.

Volunteers could stay home and watch their bird feeders, camp on a gravel road, or drive within their radius. They were encouraged to use binoculars, spotting scopes, terrain maps, and other electronic devices.

Counting was encouraged for as long as possible, primarily during daylight hours. Some volunteers counted into the night, looking for nocturnal birds such as owls.

All birds seen by volunteers were counted, as well as birds they could hear, provided the species could be identified.

“They all really know their birds. The Christmas bird count is probably not the best time to be a hobbyist, ”said Hansen, praising the volunteer experience. “You don’t always look good, but some experts can tell by the way the bird flies, its habitat or its color. “

Mitchell's annual Christmas Bird Count has assigned volunteers to six areas within a 15 mile radius of Mitchell.  Card courtesy of Jeff Hansen

Mitchell’s annual Christmas Bird Count has assigned volunteers to six areas within a 15 mile radius of Mitchell. Card courtesy of Jeff Hansen

Hansen said the tally is a great way to analyze trends in bird populations in the region.

“Most people don’t go out and watch the birds that often,” said Hansen, “but what I like to say to people is that we now see things that they have never seen before. 50 years ago.”

The Mitchell Christmas Bird Count has been held annually since 2013, when it was relaunched after a hiatus that began after the 1967 count.

The count in Mitchell is carried out as part of the Aududon Christmas Bird Count Network, which has hundreds of counts across the United States.

Although Aududon’s website only lists counts from South Dakota to Pierre and Black Hawk, Hansen estimated there were a dozen counts across the state.

This weekend’s Mitchell Christmas Bird Count data will take a few days to compile. Hansen believes the results will be available midweek.

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