NEW YORK — For the 119th year, the National Audubon Society is organizing its annual Christmas Bird Count. Between December 14 and January 5, 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 one of the longest-running wildlife censuses 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 Audubon. 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.
“The Christmas Bird Count is a tradition that everyone can participate in,” said Geoff LeBaron, Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count Director. “Adding observations to more than a century of data helps scientists and conservationists discover trends that make our work more impactful. Participating in the Christmas Bird Count is a fun tradition for anyone and everyone.”
Christmas Bird Count data have been used in more than 300 peer-reviewed articles, including 2014’s Audubon Birds and Climate Change Report, which found that more than half of the bird species in North America are threatened by a changing climate. When combined with other surveys such as the Breeding Bird Survey, it provides a picture 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 118th Christmas Bird Count included a record-setting 2585 count circles, with 1957 counts in the United States, 463 in Canada and 165 in Latin America, the Caribbean, Bermuda and the Pacific Islands. This was the eighth-straight year of record-breaking counts. In total, 76,987 observers out in the field and watching feeders tallied up 59,242,067 birds representing 2673 different species and 426 identifiable forms—about one-quarter of the world’s known avifauna. Approximately 5 percent of the North American landmass was surveyed by the Christmas Bird Count. Last year included a new species for the entire Christmas Bird Count database: a Mistle Thrush representing the first ever appearance of that species in North America.
Continuing the disturbing finding from last year was the continued decline of the Northern Bobwhite, the only native quail in the eastern United States. This species has essentially disappeared from the Northeast and faces massive declines due to loss of shrubland habitat exacerbated by increased droughts. Other species in decline include American Kestrels, our smallest falcon, and the Loggerhead Shrike, a predatory songbird that impales its prey on thorns. While the reasons for these declines is poorly understood, scientists suspect loss of habitat as well as susceptibility to pesticide use.
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 observers and scientists were becoming concerned about declining bird populations. So began the Christmas Bird Count. 119 years later, the tradition continues and still manages to bring out the best in people.
The Audubon Christmas Bird Count is a community science project organized by the National Audubon Society. There is no fee to participate and the quarterly report, American Birds, is available online. Counts are open to birders of all skill levels and Audubon’s free Bird Guide app makes it even easier to learn more. For more information and to find a count near you visit www.christmasbirdcount.org.
The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow, throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education and on-the-ground conservation. Audubon’s state programs, nature centers, chapters and partners have an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire and unite diverse communities in conservation action. Since 1905, Audubon’s vision has been a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Audubon is a nonprofit conservation organization. Learn more at www.audubon.org and @audubonsociety.
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