111 Years of Counting

Citizen Science: Audubon Christmas Bird Count

The Christmas Bird Count becomes more important every year;” said Audubon President David Yarnold. “The information gathered by its army of dedicated volunteers leads directly to solutions. At a time when people wonder if individual actions can make a difference, we know that our volunteers enable scientists to learn about the impacts of environmental threats like climate change and habitat loss. That’s good news not just for birds but for all of us.” (Photo credit: Jerry Acton)

From December 14th, 2010 through January 5th, 2011,  family volunteers throughout New England will bundle up and head out into the cold to participate as citizen scientists as part of the Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC).

111 years ago, the Audubon Christmas Bird Count began when Frank Chapman, founder of the Audubon magazine, suggested an alternative to hunting birds and proposed that people “hunt” them only to count them. Now armed with binoculars, pad and pen, tens of thousands of volunteers head outside to count and record the winter resident population of birds in their region. This data helps with conservation efforts.

Mary Alice Wilson, organizer of the Northampton CBC writes, “Collecting data about birds is a year-round project. In the summer, there are breeding bird surveys and breeding bird atlases. In the spring and fall there are hawk watches, and places to observe (and count) all kinds of migrating birds. In the winter, there is the Christmas Bird Count (CBC). Groups gather all over the country to spend one day counting all the birds in a circle 15 miles in diameter. The data is used by researchers to determine population concentrations and trends.”

According to Audubon, counts are often family or community traditions that make for fascinating stories. Accuracy is assured by having new participants join an established group that includes at least one experienced birdwatcher. These field parties allow inexperienced observers to observe along with seasoned CBC participants. Count volunteers follow specified routes through a designated 15-mile diameter circle or can arrange in advance to count the birds at home feeders inside the circle and submit the results to a designated compiler.

George C. Kingston, organizer of two Western Mass counts writes, “The Springfield Area Christmas Bird Count will be held on Saturday, December 18th, 2010. The count covers the area from Ludlow to the Connecticut line and Agawam to Hampden. If you are interested in joining a team in the field or in counting birds at your feeders, contact me at 413-525-6742 or gcking@yahoo.com by Dec 15. Potluck dinner and compilation for participants at 6:30 pm.

“The Cobble Mountain Christmas Bird Count will be held on Sunday, December 26th, 2010. The count covers the Westfield area. If you are interested in joining a team in the field or in counting birds at your feeders, contact Seth Kellogg at 413-569-3335 or skhawk@comcast.net by Dec 22. Pizza and compilation for participants at 4:30.”

Wilson writes, “To find out more about the Northampton Christmas Count, scheduled for Sunday, December 19th, 2010, go to www.hampshirebirdclub.org, click on Christmas Count at the bottom on the page, and look through the various documents including the map of the territory.”

Studying birds together can be a fun family hobby. Grab the kids and discover the songs of many New England birds with these audio samples:

To find out more, visit the Audubon Christmas Bird Count web page.

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