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Looking Ahead: Counting Birds

We count birds every day at Crossroads.  So why is the Annual Christmas Bird Count so important? Why are we making it a special event for adults and families? And why are we now expanding our programing to include a community science initiative called Project Feeder Watch?

Lots of Land and Lots of Birds

In spite of the fact we have a few people looking for birds for an hour or so most days, we can’t be everywhere and staff and visitors are not out all the time, so even in our 200+ acres, we’ve surely missed many species and individuals.

Besides that, winter birds are as erratic as December weather. The birds we see any given day depends on local weather. On mild sunny days, flocks of birds are out and about. If the weather is stormy or windy, birds are sensibly hunkered down. Before a storm, birds seem to know (falling barometric pressure, perhaps?) and crowd into the feeders to consume as many calories as they can before the bad weather hits and they disappear.

Furthermore, summer growing conditions in the boreal forests in the north of Canada, and consequently, the availability of seeds and berries, or lack thereof, may often determine which bird species migrate as far south as Wisconsin in the winter.

Sometimes, flocks are here. And then, for no reason, or at least no reason apparent to mere humans, they fly away. (Realize that the flocks of birds at the feeder may or may not be the same flock that was there the week before.) Winter birds tend to be nomadic.

Consequently, counting the birds we see on one Saturday tells us how many birds we identified that day. Numbers and species could be completely different the next day or the next week. Bird populations could change if a few hungry predators take up residence… or if The Cove Estuary freezes or opens up…. or if heavy snow blankets the wildflower seedheads in the uplands.…. or if food in Canada becomes scarce.

So if the counting birds on one day in December doesn’t count for much, why do we do it?

A 100+ Year Tradition

Staff and visitors to Crossroads join some 60,000 birders across the Western Hemisphere in this Audubon-sponsored annual community  science effort. While our individual count signifies very little, our numbers will be combined with other count areas in Sturgeon Bay, and other counts on the Peninsula, and in Wisconsin …you get the idea. Data from thousands of counts made throughout the whole Western Hemisphere, year after year, has been recorded since the first count in 1900.

Using Christmas Count results, the Audubon Society has developed a Climate Change Report which concludes that the range at least half of North American birds has decreased due to climate and habitat change. Their researchers predict it will become even more dire in coming years. The EPA (the Environmental Protection Agency) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency also use Christmas Count data as indicators for their predictions, which are equally alarming.

Are winter birds changing their migration patterns? Are birds wintering farther north than they used to? Are populations declining? Records from 123 years of Christmas Counts will help future scientists answer those very questions.

Those interest in taking part in Sturgeon Bay Count should contact Charlotte and Wendy Lukes clukes@mwwb.net . But for people who want experience this activity with some assistance or who have only a short time, we are sponsoring self-guided outings at Crossroads, and we hope to have volunteers out in the field to help with ID. For more information, visit the Crossroads website. Or stop by the Collins Learning Center to pick up a count schedule.  Reservations are appreciated but not required.

Project FeederWatch

Another bird-related community science opportunity will soon be available at Crossroads. We now are a site registered in Cornell University’s Project Feeder Watch.  We are hoping to recruit volunteers, who instead of counting birds on one day each year, want to participate on Mondays and/or Tuesdays. On those two days, volunteers will count and record the birds coming to our new feeding station. If you would like to learn more or help contribute to this community science effort, stop by the Collins Learning Center or contact Corey@crossroadsatbigcreek,org

The Door County Beekeepers plan to “bee” social this holiday season so their December meeting will include fellowship and Max Martin will offer a special demonstration on making bee candy (which is not to be confused with Christmas candy.)The meeting will be held at the Collins Learning Center at Crossroads.

As always, our trails are open all day every day, free of charge. Check the Crossroads website calendar for upcoming events and details.


Upcoming Activities

Saturday, December 16

 8:00 am – 5:30 pm 2023 Christmas Bird Count

Help us find and identify local bird species while adding to over a century of community science data! Want to participate? Come to the Collins Learning Center, grab a trail map, a pencil, and a birding checklist or download the free eBird App. Hike the scheduled trail, ID as many birds as you can, and report your findings over a cup of hot chocolate when you finish the hike! Take as much or as little time as you’d like. Meet at the Collins Learning Center, 2041 Michigan Street, Sturgeon Bay. Free and open to the public.


1:00 pm – 4:00 pm Fireside at Crossroads

Throughout December, folks are invited to get cozy at Crossroads on Saturday afternoons during our open hours. Whether you want to warm up after a hike or just stop by for a cup of coffee or hot chocolate, you can enjoy some fresh popped popcorn, and relax around the Fireplace. Board Games will be available. Free and open to the public.


2:00 pm – 3:00 pm Science Saturday: Family Bird Count

The Saturday Science program, which is offered every Saturday afternoon, will take advantage of the day—Christmas Bird Count— to give families an opportunity to participate in this community science activity. Families should bring a cell phone if possible, in that we will be using the Merlin app for identification. Loaner binoculars available. Free and open to all ages. Meet at the Collins Learning Center, Crossroads at Big Creek 2041 Michigan Street, Sturgeon Bay.


7:00 pm Door Peninsula Astronomical Society Viewing Night

At the monthly viewing night, planetarium shows will be offered and weather permitting, the observatory will be open and naked eye viewing available. Meet at the Stonecipher Astronomy Center, Crossroads Astronomy Campus, 2200 Utah Street, Sturgeon Bay.


Tuesday, December 19

6:30 pm Door County Beekeeper Club: Bee-Social Holiday Gathering

Join the Beekeepers Club want to “bee” social this holiday season so they will gather for fellowship with a special demonstration on making bee candy by Max Martin. Free and open to the public. Meet in the Collins Learning Center, 2041 Michigan Sturgeon Bay

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