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Christmas Bird Count and Citizen Science

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
Decem­ber 2012

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