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Who’s Counting the Birds? The Rockingham Bird Club!

Before 1900, a popular Christmas tradition was the “Christmas ‘Side Hunt.’”   Teams of hunters would choose sides and go a field with their guns and whoever returned with the largest pile of feathers and fur won.[1]  On Christmas Day 1900, Frank M. Chapman, ornithologist, author, curator of the American Museum of Natural History, and member of the fledgling Audubon Society, began the process of changing this tradition.  Chapman proposed and conducted the new tradition of the “Christmas Bird Census, “now known as the Christmas Bird Count.[2]  Simply translated—count the birds, do not kill them.

This year marks the 116th Bird Count which has expanded internationally and been modified to allow the one-day counts dispersed during a window of mid-December through early January. The Rockingham Bird Club (RBC) has participated in this event bird clubsince the Club’s official founding in 1974, monitoring a circle coded VARBC.  Prior to this, the present count “circle” was covered by individuals beginning in 1954. Earlier local Christmas Bird Counts were also conducted by individuals, such as D. Ralph Hostetter, an ornithology teacher at Eastern Mennonite School (now EMU), who conducted the first bird count in the 1930’s, walking from northwest Harrisonburg to Tide Springs (south of Broadway) and back.[3]  This year, the Audubon Christmas Bird Count begins Dec. 14th and ends on Jan. 5th.  The RBC’s designated day of observations and recordings is Dec. 19th. Their circle of observation is a 7.5 mile radius divided into six sectors which are led by experienced sector leaders.

Last year, the RBC spotted one of the only two Ruffed Grouse reported in Virginia.  They also spotted Barn, Barred, Eastern Screech and Great Horned owls, a Merlin, Green Heron, Eurasian Collared Doves, Loggerhead shrike, and many more.  In total, they recorded 75 species and 11,579 individuals.[4]

The RBC does more than count birds. Their mission, stated on their website is: “Dedicated to the protection, enjoyment, and knowledge of birds.”  They meet monthly from September through June, (usually at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Center) on the first Thursday of each month at 7:00pm. They lead guided field trips and present informative programs to schools, groups, retirement centers, various other institutions, and have frequently presented programs at and donated books to our libbirds2rary.

One donated book, The Backyard Birdsong Guide, not only has colored photographs of the birds and habitat information, but it also plays their songs.  The RBC has also donated the collaborated works of Cornell University and the American Ornithologists entitled Birds of North America. These notebooks contain information and colored plates of over 700 species and are located in the Reference Room of the Central Library.  These are just two of the many exceptional books donated to the library by the RBC.Birds1

Speaking of books, The RBC also has a Bird Club Book Club!  This month they are reading and discussing award winning writer and biologist Bernd Heinrich’s The Geese of Beaver Bog. This is a true story about a gosling named Peep that Heinrich fosters.  Sorry, this book is not currently available at our library.

You may have missed the Christmas Bird Count, the Northern Saw-Whet Owl banding and research, the Kestrel Nesting Boxes building project and the banding of 1,000, yes, one thousand, Kestrels banded by conservationists/researchers Jill and Lance Morrow; however, a new project is often in the plans.[5]  February brings the Great Backyard Bird Count and a new field trip is always on the calendar.  What better way for children to learn about habitats for their Virginia SOLs than by taking a field trip with an experienced guide?  They’ll also learn photography, science, and teamwork.  Contact the Rockingham Bird Club via their website: or attend their monthly meeting—and don’t forget to the feed the birds!!!

Homemade Bird Treats

Take an open pine cone and smear with peanut butter. Stick bits of apples, raisins, seeds and other birdie treats into the peanut butter. Tie some yarn around one end and hang in a tree, on fencepost, or such and get your camera ready.


by Cheryl Metz



[2] Ibid.

[3] Mellinger, Clair, ed. Birds of Rockingham County Virginia. Rockingham Bird Club: November 1988, p.12.


[5] Interview with RBC member Diane Lepkowski, December 16, 2015. (Many thanks to Diane for her information, leads to resources, library presentations, photography, and her dedication to conservation.)

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