Christmas Bird Count Reveals Rare Species

By Matt Baume
|  Monday, Dec 20, 2010  |  Updated 12:45 PM PDT
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Christmas Bird Count Reveals Rare Species

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Keep your eyes on the skies this week: it's the annual Christmas Bird Count.

Volunteers in Alameda are concentrated around the Alviso Adobe Community Park, and are fanning out across the valley. Thirty different groups are keeping watch for various species. That helps biologists assess the health of various types of birds, and can also reveal trends about climate change and shifting habitats.

The census is going on all around the country this month. Although the rain has put a damper on some excursions, bird-watchers are keeping watch all around the Bay Area. It's a tradition that dates back more than a century.

There's good news so far this year, with some rare species spotted by birders. That includes the Lewis's woodpecker, bald eagles, and merlins. Watchers even sighted a wild parrot.

But there's also reason for concern. Grassland birds are have been moving north during cold weather, which could mean that climate change is causing warmer conditions. Species like the clapper rail and burrowing owl have been decreasing in number.

Birders on Alcatraz have spotted evidence that a barn own has moved in to the prison. Although sightings have been difficult, feathers and owl pellets have given away the new resident's location. He's believed to have gained access through a small hole in the brickwork in Building 64, which is off-limits to the public.

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