Anything celebrating its 117th year is likely on to something. Few things last more than a lifetime, much less generations. For the 117th year in a row, the National Audubon Society is organizing its annual Christmas Bird Count.
Beginning on Christmas Day in 1900, Dr. Frank M. Chapman, founder of Bird-Lore, which evolved into Audubon magazine, proposed a new holiday tradition that would count birds during the holidays rather than hunt them. Conservation was in its beginning stages in that era, and many hunters, observers and scientists were becoming concerned about declining bird populations. So began the Christmas Bird Count. The tradition continues and still manages to bring out the best in people.
Between December 14th and January 5th, tens of thousands of bird-loving volunteers will participate in counts across the Western Hemisphere. The data collected by participants continues to contribute to one of only two large existing pools of information notifying ornithologists and conservation biologists about what conservation action is required to protect birds and the places they need.
The Christmas Bird Count is the longest-running wildlife census in the world. Each individual count takes place in a 15-mile-wide circle and is led by a compiler responsible for organizing volunteers and submitting observations to the Audubon Society. Within each circle, participants tally all birds seen or heard that day – not just the species but total numbers – to provide a clear idea of the health of that particular population.
“It’s never been easier to be a citizen scientist and it’s never been more important to be one,” said David Yarnold, president of the National Audubon Society. “Birds and the people who watch them are noticing changes. Using the data gathered by more than a century of Christmas Bird Counts, Audubon will keep protecting birds and the places they need. I’m incredibly proud of the volunteers that contribute to this tradition.”
Christmas Bird Count data has been used in more than 200 peer-reviewed articles which shows how well respected the CBC is on biologists and other professionals researching the ever changing world and how birds fit it. When combined with other surveys such as the Breeding Bird Survey, a picture is shown of how the continent’s bird populations have changed in time and space over the past hundred years. The long term perspective is vital for conservationists. It informs strategies to protect birds and their habitat, and helps identify environmental issues with implications for people as well.
Last year, the 116th Christmas Bird Count included a record-setting number of counts (over 2,500) in the U.S. Canada, Latin America, the Caribbean, Bermuda and the Pacific Islands. In total, over 75 thousand observers out in the field tallied up almost 60 million birds representing over 26 hundred different species. This represents about a quarter of the world’s known kinds of birds. Approximately 5 percent of the North American landmass was surveyed by the Christmas Bird Count.
From Alaska’s Arctic coast to Tierra del Fuego, and from Newfoundland to Los Angeles, the 117th CBC is a tradition that anyone can participate. Adding observations to more than a century of data helps scientists and conservationists observe trends that will help make the Society’s work more impactful and can be a fun day afield.
It’s not just about song birds. A disturbing finding from last year was the continued decline of the Northern Bobwhite, the only native quail in the eastern United States. Record low numbers of this species were observed from the Midwestern states to the Mid-Atlantic and down to Florida.
Meanwhile the Eurasian Collared-Dove, introduced to the Bahamas in the 1970s from its native Europe, was observed in record high numbers from North Carolina throughout the Midwest and northward to the Great Lakes and southern Canada. One of my brothers bagged one of these here in Newton County opening day of dove hunting season. Both of these species are of great concern as Audubon embarks on its 117th count. For more information and to find a count near you visit www. christmasbirdcount.org.