16 Dec 2011

Christmas counts - to the birds

By Marie Powell

As we start preparing the annual Christmas turkey (photo by tuchodi), tens of thousands of volunteers are out in search of other birds - on the annual Audobon Christmas Bird Count.

Before the Twentieth Century, many bird and animal species would need to fear the annual hunting parties in search of sport and/or food for the holidays. According to the Audobon website, this annual hunt turned into a bird-counting census on Christmas Day in 1900, when the idea was suggested by ornithologist Frank Chapman. In its first year, the bird count included sites from Ontario to California.

Today, Christmas bird counts are held across North and South America from December 14 to January 5. Bird counting usually takes place in groups within a defined area, and in all kinds of weather. The data collected helps scientists and researchers study the health of bird populations over time. That helps identify declining bird populations - and ultimately, declining populations tell us about the health of a given area or ecosystem.

It's a way of giving back - and when could that be more appropriate than at Christmastime?

For more about Christmas bird counts, or to find one near you, try these links:

Audobon: Christmas bird count: http://birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count#

Audobon: Get Involved: http://birds.audubon.org/get-involved-christmas-bird-count

Bird Studies Canada: http://www.bsc-eoc.org/volunteer/cbc/index.jsp?targetpg=cbcparticpate&lang=EN

Marie Powell is a freelance writer and author of Dragonflies are Amazing (Scholastic).

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