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Western Mass. wildlife enthusiasts participate in national bird count

Inside the Quabbin Reservoir in Petersham, Massachusetts.
Nancy Eve Cohen
Inside the Quabbin Reservoir in Petersham, Massachusetts.

This time of year wildlife enthusiasts volunteer one day to count every bird they see or hear across the United States, Canada, as well as Central and South America. In Massachusetts nearly three dozen groups participate, including one that counts in the Quabbin Reservoir.

When the National Audubon Society's first Christmas bird count was organized in 1900, an ornithologist proposed people count birds over the holiday rather than hunt them. The count takes place from December 14 through January 5.

A group of about forty people will cover the Quabbin and parts of nearby towns including Hardwick, Petersham, Ware and Belchertown on New Year's day. They count everything from black-capped chickadees to red-tailed hawks.

Scott Surner, who organizes the group, also known as a "circle," has seen some changes nationally since he first did the count decades ago.

"There are more people out there doing the bird count. And there are more Christmas count circles than there were thirty years ago, but the numbers of birds are declining," Surner said.

The counts provide scientists with a large data set encompassing more than 12 decades to evaluate the health of bird populations. One study shows a loss of nearly three billion birds since 1970 in North America across species and habitats.

In the Quabbin, Surner said he has seen an increase in some species over the years including the common raven, the red-bellied woodpecker and the eastern bluebird.

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Earlier in her career she was NPR’s Midwest editor in Washington, D.C., managing editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub and recorded sound for TV networks on global assignments, including the war in Sarajevo and an interview with Fidel Castro.
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