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Join the Christmas Bird Count

December 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

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With their binoculars, scopes, and gazes turned to the skies, birdwatchers are often far easier to spot than the feathered friends they search for.

Join a Christmas Bird Count at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge on Monday, December 19, 2011. Pictured above Green Jay at Laguna Atascosa. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Birds have a unique ability to inspire and delight us. They connect us with nature, with the passage of seasons, and with each other.

Birding is one of the most popular activities in the country. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 48 million Americans go birding each year. How about you?

It is also one of the few activities open to all ages and levels of ability.

The 112th annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is scheduled for December 14, 2011 to January 5, 2012. It is an early-winter bird census, where thousands of volunteers across the United States, Canada, and other countries in the Western Hemisphere, go out over a 24-hour period to count birds.

Tens of thousands of volunteers throughout North America will brave winter weather to add a new layer to over a century of data.

Prior to the turn of the century, people engaged in a holiday tradition known as the Christmas “Side Hunt”: They would choose sides and go afield with their guns; whoever brought in the biggest pile of feathered—and furred—quarry won.

The Audubon Christmas Bird Count began in 1900 when ornithologist Frank Chapman, founder of Bird-Lore (which evolved into Audubon magazine) proposed a new holiday tradition—a “Christmas Bird Census”—that would count birds in the holidays rather than hunt them.

So began the Christmas Bird Count.

Organized by the National Audubon Society, this all-volunteer effort takes a snapshot of bird populations to monitor their status and distribution across the Western Hemisphere.

Last year’s bird count shattered records. A total of 2,215 counts and 62,624 people tallied over 60 million birds. Counts took place in all 50 states, all Canadian provinces, plus 107 count circles in Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Islands.

Join a Christmas Bird Count at Weslaco in the Rio Grande Valley on Wednesday, December 28, 2011. Pictured above is a green kingfisher at Estero Grande State Park in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The results are compiled into a database that is shared with federal, state, and private authorities. Past data can be viewed at the Audubon’s website.

CBC data not only helps identify birds in most urgent need of conservation action; it reveals success stories.

The Christmas Bird Count helped document the comeback of the previously endangered Bald Eagle, and significant increases in waterfowl populations, both the result of conservation efforts.

You need to be officially part of the CBC, because this is an official census.

There are designated compilers in each CBC circle and counters follow specified routes through a designated 15-mile diameter circle counting every bird they hear throughout the day.

CBC participants are organized into groups by the organizer or compiler of each Count. Counts are open to birders of all skill levels. Anyone is welcome to participate. Novices are placed in groups with more experienced birders.

There is a $5.00 fee charged by the National Audubon Society for each individual who participates. These fees fund the program and help to cover the costs of generating materials for compilers, producing an annual CBC summary issue, and maintaining the CBC website and database. There is no fee for persons 18 years old and under.

In some cases the CBC is sponsored by a local Audubon chapter or other organization, and the participants do not need to pay a fee.

Many CBCs encourage feeder watchers; there is no fee to be a feeder watcher.

Join a Christmas Bird Count at Falcon Dam and State Park, Texas on Friday, December 30, 2011. Pictured above is a Great Kiskadee at Falcon Dam. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you have never been on a CBC before your first step is to locate and contact your local Count Compiler to find out how you can volunteer.

You can search for a circle near you on the Get Involved page.

There’s a wonderful world just waiting to be explored, so get into birds!

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Worth Pondering…

(The) citizen science aspect is secondary to the individual birder’s addiction to a cold day of discovery in the woods, serendipitous as star gazing. Then there is the après-view aspect of swapping tales in a cozy gathering of census takers, a modern successor to Side Hunt festivity minus the dead birds underfoot.

—New York Times editorial

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If you enjoy these articles and want to read more on RV travels and lifestyle, visit my website: Vogel Talks RVing.

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