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Flickers and other South Dakota birds will be recorded during the 2020 Audubon Christmas Bird Count. Photo by Bernie Hunhoff.
Flickers and other South Dakota birds will be recorded during the 2020 Audubon Christmas Bird Count. Photo by Bernie Hunhoff.

The Count Goes On

Dec 11, 2020

COVID or not, South Dakotans are going to count our birds. This month, volunteers across South Dakota will venture out with binoculars and spotting scopes in hand or simply sit and watch their feeders as they help with the annual bird census.

The Audubon Christmas Bird Count, held between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5, collects data on North American bird populations thanks to volunteers who track the numbers and species of birds spotted in a 15-mile diameter circle during one 24-hour period. Conservationists use the data to identify environmental issues, develop strategies to protect birds and simply to gauge bird health.

The pandemic is complicating gatherings of any kind, but the Audubon Society has rules for ensuring that this year’s count is safe. Social distancing must be observed, even in the field, carpooling is discouraged and there will be no in-person compilation gatherings, kick-off brunches or group lunches. (However, after a day of breathing the fresh air of winter, you are welcome to stop by your favorite restaurant to order a hot take-out meal!)

Despite the restrictions, Roger Dietrich, coordinator for the Yankton Christmas Bird Count since 2006, says interest is on the rise. “I have already gotten more calls and emails from local people interested in the CBC this year than ever before,” he says.

The Yankton count recorded 75 species last year. There’s a special thrill in spotting unusual species, but even grackles and sparrows have scientific value. Dietrich says one of his treasured count experiences involved one of the most common birds of all. “I met with several others at the north wall of the spillway at Gavins Point Dam. While we were standing there planning where our group was going to go first, a number of robins began flying over,” he says. “There were so many birds they extended from south of the river to the bluffs to the north.”

A pair of experienced birders began to make calculations, timing the flyover and counting the number of birds in one segment of the group. They estimated that there were 120,000 robins in the flock. “It was amazing,” Dietrich says. “The robins flew over us for 20 minutes.”

To learn more or to participate in this year’s count, sign up in advance by contacting the count coordinators below, or visit the Audubon Christmas Bird Count map for additional opportunities in your area.


Dec. 14: Shadehill, Perkins County. Email Meghan Dinkins at

Dec. 15: Waubay National Wildlife Refuge, Day County. Email Laura Hubers at

Dec. 16: Madison. Email Jeffrey Palmer at

Dec. 19: Aberdeen. Contact Gary Olson at

Dec. 19: Sturgis. Contact Victor Fondy at

Dec. 19: Pierre and Fort Pierre. Email Ruben Mares at

Dec. 19: Brookings. Contact Margy Pearson at

Dec. 19: Sioux Falls. Contact Chris Anderson at

Dec. 20: Yankton. Email Roger Dietrich at 

Dec. 20: Rapid City. Email Michael Melius at

Dec. 20: Hot Springs. Email Duane or Marie Weber at

Dec. 23: Pine Ridge. Email Peter Hill at

Dec. 26: Mitchell. Contact Jeff Hansen at 

Dec. 29: Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge, Columbia. Email Allen Olson at 

Dec. 29: Badlands National Park. Contact Nancy Drilling at

Jan. 2: Harding County. Contact Jessica Howell at

Jan. 2: Canton. Email Chris Anderson

Jan. 3: Spearfish. Email Daniel Bjerke at

Dec. 31: Huron. Contact Ryan Thompson,


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