Annual Count Yields Citizen Science Data Vital to Conservation
The longest running Citizen Science survey in the world, Audubon’s annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) will take place between December 14, 2009 and January 5, 2010. From Alaska to Antarctica, tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the hemisphere will add a new layer to over a century of bird population information.
Scientist rely on this remarkable trend data to better understand how birds and the environment are faring throughout North America – and what needs to be done to protect them. Data from Audubon’s signature Citizen Science program are at the heart of numerous peer-reviewed scientific studies. CBC data informed the first U. S State of the Birds Report, issued earlier this year by the Department of the Interior in partnership Audubon and with a dozen other conservation organizations. Audubon scientists analyzed 40 years of citizen-science Christmas Bird Count data, and their findings provide new and powerful evidence that global warming is having a serious impact on natural systems. Northward movement was detected among species of every type, including more than 70 percent of highly adaptable forest and feeder birds.
The Christmas Bird Count began in 1900 when the founder of Bird-Lore (the progenitor of Audubon magazine), Frank Chapman, suggested an alternative to the “side hunt,” in which teams competed to see who could shoot the most game, including birds. Chapman proposed that people “hunt” birds only to identify, count, and record them. These Binocular Brigades often brave winter’s chill, ice and snow to record changes in resident populations and ranges, before spring migrants return.
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. Counts are often multi-generational family or community traditions that make for fascinating stories about bird observations, trends in data, and the human element of the count.
“Everyone who takes part in the Christmas Birds Count plays a critical role in helping us focus attention and conservation where it is most needed.” said Audubon Chief Scientist, Dr. Tom Bancroft, “In addition to Audubon’s reports on the impacts of Climate Change on birds and our analysis of Common Birds in Decline, it is the foundation for Audubon’s WatchList, which identified species in need of conservation help.
“The Christmas Bird Count is all about the power of Citizen Science” says Geoff LeBaron, Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count director. “Our theme is ’I Count’ because the work of tens of thousands of volunteers, extending one hundred and ten years, really adds up for the conservation of birds and our environment.”
The prestigious journal Nature issued an editorial citing CBC as a “model” for Citizen Science. Get involved today!