FARMINGTON — Bird enthusiasts throughout the Four Corners can participate in a scientific experiment that has been going on for more than 100 years.
Starting Saturday, volunteers from throughout the Americas will take to the field armed with binoculars and field guides to count birds as part of the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count. The count will continue through Jan. 5.
There are more than 35 locations in New Mexico participating in the count. One of these locations is Chaco Culture National Historical Park.
Lauren Kiser, a Chaco Canyon employee, is organizing the count at the park. She said there are certain birds that people always see.
"We have ravens that live here year round," Kiser said.
The group saw 925 birds, mainly house finches and white-crowned sparrows, in 2011, the most recent year of available data.
"It's really one great way for the community to come together," Kiser said.
In most scientific studies, the researcher follows a process that starts with applying for grants and ends with publication in a peer-reviewed journal. The Christmas Bird Count is different, but that doesn't mean it isn't taken seriously. Scientists from all over the world use the data, which has even provided insights on global warming.
"It gives you pretty solid data," Kiser said.
The Chaco count focuses on three habitats: the wash, the canyon and the mesas.
Members of the Four Corners Bird Club of Farmington also participate in the count and lend their expertise to beginning birders. Even if someone has no experience birding, they can participate by spotting birds, counting them and recording data. The Farmington birders will meet Saturday morning at Riverside Nature Center.
In addition to the Farmington and Chaco Canyon count, there is a count in Durango, Colo.
The Durango count was put together by the Durango Bird Club. Heather Morris, the president of the club, said the majority of birds spotted during the count tend to be European starlings and Eurasian colored doves, but the native species are often juncos. Juncos, which are year-round residents in the Four Corners, are small birds easily identified by their white outer tail feathers. They are common in coniferous forests.
While volunteers count birds in coniferous forests, they will also canvas riparian and urban habitats.
"Our route covers pretty much every habitat we can see in the Durango area," Morris said.
She said the count is important because it helps track species in participating areas. The bird count has more than 2,000 locations in the United States, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands.
By counting birds in the areas, scientists are able to see if certain species decrease or increase and if new species move into the area.
During the count, participants work to identify and count every bird. Morris said there is a lot of repetition, which helps beginning birders.
Morris has gained experience, as well as memories from participating in the count.
One year, the group was returning early from a route. When they approached the bottom of Farmington Hill near the intersection of Colo. Highway 160 and U.S. Highway 550, they glanced to the right and saw a hermit thrush -- a brown robin-like bird with a spotted chest and reddish tail -- in the water. The hermit thrush usually breeds in the Four Corners area and winters farther south.
"Almost every year, we see something that surprises us," Morris said.