111th annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count underway

The Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count is the largest and longest-running citizen science program in the world.

December 14 marks the start of the National Audubon Society’s 111th annual Christmas Bird Count, continuing until January 5, 2011. The Christmas Bird Count is the largest and longest-running citizen science survey in the world. This year, the Audubon Society expects tens of thousands of volunteers to get outside and count birds, for science.

Thomas Bancroft describes findings of 2009 citizen science winter bird count

The Christmas Bird Count provides an opportunity for people without any science or birding background to contribute important data about birds. The information is used to monitor the status of birds, track the decline or recovery of individual species, and assess the impact of climate change on birds. Many scientists base peer-reviewed studies on the 100-years-worth of data from the annual bird count, so volunteering can really make a difference in understanding more about birds.

Image credit: DevonTT on Flickr

So how can you get involved in the Christmas Bird Count? It’s easy – just click here to search your region for what the Audubon Society calls a “Christmas Bird Count Circle,” organized by an experienced counter. On a specific day between December 14 and January 5, you’ll meet with a group of other volunteers in your area who are assigned to cover a 15-mile diameter circle. The big group will be divided up into smaller sectors, of one to four people looking into the sky and trees to count birds. If you’ve never bird watched before, you can get paired up with an experienced birder.

There’s an interesting history behind the count: The first Christmas Bird Count was organized in 1900, as an alternative to a popular holiday tradition at the time. People used to organize a hunting competition called the “side hunt” in which they choose sides, and then competed to see which side could bring home the most dead birds. Frank Chapman, an ornithologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, proposed that people count birds instead of killing them. The side hunt is history, and the Christmas Bird Count continues today.

Lindsay Patterson