For the past 116 years, bird lovers have gathered each December for the annual Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count and it is once again time for this look at the health of our avian neighbors and actually ourselves.
Until Jan. 5 at over 2,400 locations more than 72,000 volunteers in the Western Hemisphere will be counting the different varieties of bird species. This information will then be submitted to the Audubon Society and used in research regarding environmental conditions and the population of birds in each region.
For those unfamiliar with the count, it is the longest running wildlife census and has had a direct role in actions taken to protect and restore the environment. Count areas are divided into a 15-mile wide circle and a count compiler then takes the information and creates a listing and count of every bird seen or heard.
“New tools, including apps, smartphones and map-based technologies, are making it easier than ever for anyone to be a citizen scientist,” said Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold . “People who watch birds are seeing changes. By recording all those observations, they’re contributing the information that’s needed to make a difference. I couldn’t be prouder of the volunteers who contribute each year.”
If there is any doubt about the value of the count, consider that to date, there have been over 200 peer-reviewed scientific papers that have used the collected data. It has also shown that 314 species of North American birds are at risk due to global warming, as reported in the Birds and Climate Change study produced by the Audubon Society.
In the 2014 count a new record was set with 72,653 counters taking part in all 50 U.S states and every Canadian province along with over 100 counting locations in Latin America the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands. There were also four count locations in Cuba and for the first time counters in Mexico, Columbia and Nicaragua took part.
The Christmas bird count began in 1900 when Dr. Frank Chapman, who founded Bird Lore, the precursor of the Audubon magazine proposed an alternative to the then holiday tradition of the Christmas bird hunt. Instead of hunting the birds with guns, it would be a hunt to locate and identify birds.
If there is any doubt of the commitment a program such as this can create consider this. Dr. Chapman retired in 1934 and Chan Robbins of Audubon who began compiling data in 1934 still does so and continues to take part in the count.
Unlike some programs where the environment is studied, the bird count is open to every “citizen scientist” and it is free to become involved. Bird lovers of all levels are invited to take part and with the free Audubon Bird Guide app for iPhones and Android devices, it is easier than ever to identify the different species of birds.
There is also the quarterly report, American Birds available free online for those who wish to continue on take a closer look at the figures generated by the count.
So take a bit of time this year to add your voice and efforts to the work of thousands of others who understand the importance of protecting the environment by becoming involved in the Christmas bird count.
For more information and to find a count near you visit the Christmas Bird Count web page at the National Audubon website.
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