ELKO — Since the Christmas Bird count began over a century ago, it has relied on the dedication and commitment of local volunteers to gather data on winter bird populations. The Christmas Bird Count is a long-standing program of the National Audubon Society. This year marks the 118th for the national count and is the 28th Elko Christmas Bird Count.

It is an early-winter bird census, where thousands of volunteers across the U.S., Canada and many countries in the Western Hemisphere go out over a 24-hour period on one calendar day to count birds. There is no charge to participate.

This year the Elko Christmas Bird Count will be held on Dec. 16. There is a specific methodology to the CBC, and all participants imust make arrangements to participate in advance with the CBC compiler, Lois Ports, but anyone can participate.

Each count takes place in an established 15-mile diameter circle, and is organized by a count compiler. Count volunteers follow specific routes through the circle, counting every bird they see or hear all day. It’s not just a species tally — all birds are counted, giving an indication of the total number of birds in the circle that day.

The Elko Count Circle includes portions of Elko, Spring Creek and South Fork Reservoir. Those meeting in Elko will meet at 7:30 a.m. at 1050 Sewell Drive. Those wishing to do portions of the circle on the Spring Creek side will be assigned specific routes prior to the count date. Those who are new to participating will be partnered with an experienced birder.

Everyone interested should contact Ports at cell and text 775-753-2569 or email bristleconeaudubon@gmail.com. Once your route has been assigned you will be emailed a detailed map for your area and the official tally sheet that must be used.

If your home is within the boundaries of our CBC circle, then you can report the birds that visit your feeder on count day as long as you have made prior arrangement with Ports. She will give you the specific method required to submit a bird feeder count. You will still need to use the official tally sheet.

Since each CBC is a scientific census, and since the 15-mile diameter circle contains a lot of area to be covered, single-observer counts cannot be allowed.

Most observers are able to complete their sections in 4 to 6 hours. There will be a potluck dinner that evening. During the dinner all the tally sheets are totaled and everyone shares stories of the birds they have encountered that day.

Last year 55 species of birds were counted. There were 11,652 individual birds.

The European starling made up over half of the counted birds (6,543) followed by Canada geese (1,337), house sparrow (1,104), and Eurasian collared doves (554). Since there was a significant amount of open water there were 16 waterfowl species seen. Raptors counted included bald eagle, golden eagle, northern harrier, sharp-shinned hawk, Cooper’s hawk, red-tailed hawk, rough-legged hawk, American kestrel, and prairie falcon.

Records from all previous Christmas Bird Counts can be found on the National Audubon webpage.

Even if you are not able to participate in this CBC you can help by keeping your bird feeders full for the next two weeks. It helps counters to have active bird feeders which allow the birds to congregate for easy counting.

If you see people out driving and walking your neighborhoods with binoculars on Dec. 16 remember they are just counting the birds.