ERSKINE, Minn. — Rydell and Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuges will host the annual Christmas Bird Count on Thursday, Dec. 17.

Administered by the National Audubon Society, this public event is the longest-running citizen science bird project in the U.S., and this year marks its 121st year. Counts are held in designated areas throughout the U.S. between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5 each year.

According to a release, information from the counts provide important information on winter ranges of birds, population trends and how a changing climate alters winter bird distribution.

“Although most of the migratory birds that breed in the area have headed south by now, this count provides a unique opportunity to observe a number of Arctic-breeding species that consider northern Minnesota their 'warm' winter haven,” the release said.

Last year, counts were completed in more than 2,500 locations, including Canada and Latin America. More than 75,000 people participated in the counts and over 50 million birds were tallied.

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On the Rydell and Glacial Ridge Count Circle, participants have observed 50 different bird species over the past five years, including northern shrikes, Bohemian waxwings, northern goshawks, pine and evening grosbeaks, hoary redpolls and snowy owls.

The 15-mile diameter count circle stretches from Erskine west to the center of Glacial Ridge Refuge.

However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic this year, participants will count independently, rather than pairing up with Refuge staff and volunteers as they have done in past years.

Binoculars and a bird book are the only required equipment. Participants can count from a vehicle or on foot, depending on their preference and the weather conditions that day.

And people who live within the Rydell and Glacial Ridge Count Circle can even participate by reporting bird sightings at feeders from the comfort of their own home.

“Those interested in participating do not need to be expert birders. The event can serve as a great learning experience for beginning birders,” the release said. “During the challenging times we’re all experiencing, we’re hoping this event will provide a neat outdoor opportunity, whether you’re an adult looking for a new experience, or a student engaged in distance or hybrid learning.”

If interested in taking part in the count, RSVP no later than Dec. 15 by calling Gregg Knutsen at 218-686-4329 or emailing gregg_knutsen@fws.gov. Knutsen can also be contacted for any questions about the count, including whether one’s residence lies within the count circle.

A map of the count circle location and a data form will be emailed to each participant.

The count coordinator will communicate with participants to see what additional resources they might need (such as a list of birds seen on previous Rydell and Glacial Ridge counts, or links to online bird identification sites) and determine what part of the count circle participants will focus their efforts on.

After the count, participants can email their data to the count coordinator.