The 113th Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count is taking place Dec 14, 2012 to January 5, 2013. According to Audubon, this project is the longest running citizen science survey in the world. What is the Christmas Bird Count? What is Citizen Science? Glad you asked.
The modern Christmas Bird Count is an international volunteer activity where the Audubon Society organizes bird “circles” and volunteers come outside, bird guides and binoculars in hand, to identify and count all the birds in that area. Tens of thousands of people participate in this fun holiday activity. But the data is actually very valuable and used widely by scientists. This helps with conservation efforts.
The event has a bit of a dark history. The original American tradition started at the turn of the century with families competing in “side hunts” where people split up into teams to see who could kill the most birds in one day. As the American population and the tradition grew, people began to suspect that it was reducing bird populations. So on Christmas Day, 1900, with the conservation movement just beginning, the founders of the Audubon Society started changing that tradition into a Christmas Bird Census.
Check out the Audubon website for more info and to find local bird circles. I didn’t see any listed for Howard County, but perhaps you are traveling to an area that does have one. There is another great bird-related Citizen Science opportunity coming up in February, the Great Backyard Bird Count.
Back to Citizen Science for a moment. I don’t have an actual definition, but there are lots activities where volunteers participate in helping scientists collect and record environmental data. Scientists count on this data to track and find trends. You usually don’t need any special training and the time commitment is generally low.
The Great Backyard Bird Count may be the easiest of the all. You create an account online, pick a 15-minute time during February 15 – 18, 2013, and enter the types of birds you see in your backyard or other location you choose.
In Howard County, we have a number of other nature-based Citizen Science projets. Frogwatch, Butterfly and Dragonfly Counts, and the Maryland Amphibian and Reptile Atlas are a few of my favorites. I’m working on compiling the local ones into a Citizen Science page for livegreenhoward.com, so keep tuned in for that.Elissa Reineck firstname.lastname@example.org December 2012