Results Are In From First Antarctica CBC

Adelie penguin (photo by robnunn, Flickr Creative Commons)

As you probably know, Audubon’s 110th annual Christmas Bird Count is taking place right now—right now!—and there’s still time to participate because you can collect data can through January 5, 2010. (Read our earlier Perch blog post about it, and visit the Audubon CBC news room for more info.)

In the mean time, check out this cool story: The CBC truly reached all ends of the earth last year during the 109th count when a team of energetic birders/researchers counted species in Antarctica. Their results are in: They saw 270,885 Adélie penguins, 79 south polar skua, six snow petrel, two Emperor penguins, and one Wilson’s storm-petrel.

What’s the big deal? Well, first off, to be included in official CBC data, a location must qualify as a CBC circle, (designated areas 15 miles in diameter). And it’s not that simple to qualify. A location must play host to at least one species that occurs in North America at some point during the year. In Antarctica, the penguins, of course, don’t, but several of that continent’s bird species do, including the skua and the Wilson’s storm-petrel, according to a recent American Birds article written by Noah Stryker, one of three who participated in the Antarctica count. (The other two brave souls were Michelle Hester and Kirsten Lindquist.)

Secondly, this was the first-ever count on Antarctica. To up the challenge ante, how about trying to count almost 300,000 birds with just three people. How’d they do it? The species with smaller numbers were fairly straightforward. But to get estimates for the Adélie penguins, Stryker and his colleagues counted every penguin in a few sub-colonies, looked at an old photo of the colony, determined what percentage of the photo their sub-colonies comprised, then calculated a multiplication factor to get the total size. They also excluded babies, to prevent artificially inflating numbers.

It’s not clear whether the count will take place again this year; efforts to reach Stryker have so far been unsuccessful. But either way, it’s great to know that no matter where you go on this planet, someone will count birds with you.

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