By JIM ABRAMS

Winter has been somewhat hectic, and I find myself just getting around to reviewing the annual Christmas/Winter Bird Count conducted by the Hancock County Naturalists.

The Christmas bird count sprang from a rural holiday tradition called the “Christmas Side Hunt,” practiced before the turn of the century. Frank Chapman, an early officer in the Audubon Society, proposed a new holiday tradition he called the “Christmas Bird Census,” which replaced the side hunt.

Since that time, volunteers have wandered the woods, fields, marshes and neighborhoods to collect bird sightings, adding the information to a database featuring more than a century’s worth of unbroken data. The information is used to evaluate how evolving environmental conditions impact population numbers and migration patterns.

The Hancock County Naturalists completed their count Dec. 14 and documented 7,987 individual birds falling within 71 species; up from last year’s count of 62 species.

Here’s a review of their results:

• Waterfowl: cackling goose, 2; Canada goose, 1376; gadwall, 2; mallard, 365; black duck, 2; canvasback, 29; redhead, 7; lesser scaup, 25; bufflehead, 19; hooded merganser, 9; red-breasted merganser, 10; ruddy duck, 31.

• Birds found near water: ring-billed gull, 1,079; herring gull, 241; lesser black-backed gull, 27; glaucous gull, 1; pied-billed grebe, 1; American coot, 5; sandhill crane, 101; great blue heron, 6; belted kingfisher, 4.

• Raptors: Northern harrier, 5; sharp-shinned hawk, 2; Cooper’s hawk, 3; bald eagle, 27; red-shouldered hawk, 1; red-tailed hawk, 36; barred owl, 1; kestrel, 39; merlin, 4. A new bald eagle nest was also noted just west of Riverbend.

• Woodpeckers: yellow-bellied sapsucker, 1; red-headed, 1; red-bellied, 75; downy, 78; hairy, 17; pileated, 1; Northern flicker, 1.

• Sparrows and finches: field sparrow, 1, American tree sparrow, 215; white-throated sparrow, 2; song sparrow, 46; house sparrow, 178; house finch, 56; goldfinch, 109.

• Other birds: ring-necked pheasant, 1; wild turkey, 6; rock pigeon, 133; European collared dove, 2; mourning dove, 60; blue jay, 113; crow, 53; horned lark, 22; Carolina/black-capped chickadee, 48; tufted titmouse, 41; red-breasted nuthatch, 1; white-breasted nuthatch, 86; brown creeper, 14; winter wren, 2; Carolina wren, 25; golden-crowned kinglet, 5; Eastern bluebird, 8; robin, 10; Northern mockingbird, 2; European starling, 2,829; American pipit, 2; cedar waxwing, 11; snow bunting, 7; dark-eyed junco, 106; yellow-rumped warbler, 6; common grackle, 2; cardinal, 139.

Like most bird watchers, the members of Hancock County Naturalists never stop surveying the countryside in the hopes of identifying our transient visitors. The day after the count, over 300 sandhill cranes were observed flying over the west side of Findlay and across the Wood County line near Weston, and visiting snowy owls and a prairie falcon caused some excitement. The real stunner came from a fly-over of whooping cranes.

Whooping cranes cause quite a stir in the birding world, regardless of where they’re spotted. They’re the largest of two crane species in North America; the sandhill being the other. Standing at 4 to 5.3 feet tall and sporting a wingspan up to 7.5 feet, the bird is impressive.

Loss of habitat and a past century’s lust for its plumage, used to fashionably adorn women’s hats, drove the bird toward oblivion. By 1941, only 21 of the birds still existed. Protection and concerted conservation efforts spanning across the continent have increased that number to over 800. That work continues, but birders are lucky to spot one outside of the crane’s narrow migratory pathways. Wildlife recovery efforts have resulted in whooping cranes nesting naturally for the first time in 100 years in the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in central Wisconsin.

If you would like to learn more about birding and our outdoor world, all while making new friends, consider joining the Hancock County Naturalists. The cost is $15 for individuals, $20 for a family and $10 for students. Payment can be submitted to Gregg Cline, 16156 Forest Edge Drive, Findlay.

The group meets at 7 p.m. the second Thursday of each month, September through May, at the Oakwoods Discovery Center, 1400 Oakwoods Lane. Email Betsy Worden at bworden001@woh.rr.com for more information.

“I don’t feed the birds because they need me; I feed the birds because I need them.” “” Kathi Hutton

Along the Way

The National Association of Conservation Law Enforcement Chiefs and Responsive Management, in coordination with state wildlife agencies including the Ohio Division of Wildlife, has begun a nationwide study on the future of conservation law enforcement in the U.S.

The probability-based scientific survey randomly selects residents from around the country. Participants aren’t required to be participants in outdoor activities, nor familiar with specific issues. These factors will be weighed into the results.

Wildlife officials encourage anyone contacted for the study to participate. The calls are expected to take about 10 minutes, and wildlife agencies hope the results will help them understand what the general perceptions of conservation law enforcement are and help identify future challenges.

Step Outside:

• Feb. 25 and Feb. 29: Eagle Tour, 9:30 a.m. to noon and 1-3:30 p.m. at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, 14000 W. Ohio 2, Oak Harbor. Visit https://www.friendsofottawanwr.org for more.

• Feb. 28: Fly Fishing Film Tour, 7:30 p.m. at Maumee Indoor Theatre, 601 Conant St. Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the door. Visit https://flyfilmtour.myeventscenter.com/browseByState/OH/1.

Abrams is a retired wildlife officer supervisor for the state Division of Wildlife in Findlay.

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