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Christmas Bird Count Tip: Watch for Snowy Owls in Montana

December 12, 2011

MISSOULA, Mont. - The longest-running citizen science initiative in the world gets under way this week: the Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count. Thirty-two counts are scheduled in Montana through the first week of January, with folks headed out to locations statewide to chart species.

Amy Cilimburg with Montana Audubon expects about 200 different types of birds will be spotted, and along with the usual species, she says there will be some oddities.

"Snowy owls have been reported. They migrate down from the north into Montana. It happens some years, but not every year. It would be pretty special to have a snowy owl on your Christmas Bird Count."

She says sandhill cranes have also been seen recently, and they don't usually hang around this far into winter.

The information is compiled worldwide, Cilimburg says, with data in recent years showing that many birds are shifting their range to follow changes in temperatures linked to climate change.

"Once we have some ideas about these trends, we can start to see what are the changes - whether it's our climate, our habitat, or to people. We can start to see what the impact is on birds and help look for solutions for all of us."

Beginners and expert birders are invited to attend the counts, which start this week and run through Jan. 5. Details on the Montana Christmas Bird Count are available at

Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MT