By Ellen Barcel
There are two bird counts in which gardeners frequently like to take part. One is the current one, the Christmas bird count, and the other is the backyard bird count in February (Feb. 17 to 20). Let’s take a look at the Christmas one, and then later in February I’ll go over the backyard bird count.
The Audubon Society’s 117th Christmas bird count is currently underway. Billed as “the nation’s longest running citizen science bird project,” it goes from Dec. 14 through Jan. 5th. Yes, this is a good thing to do to help science, conservation and the environment, but it’s also a fun way of entertaining the youngsters during their holiday break from school. If you’re unsure of some bird identification, beginners are definitely welcome and are paired with an experienced birder.
All counts take place on one day, but each counter can take part in a number of counts on different days in different areas if they wish. If your home is in one of the areas that the CBC is being done, you can actually do it from your own backyard. While a donation to the Audubon Society would be nice, participation in the CBC is free.
As for the history of the bird count, back before conservation efforts began, many people took part in what was known as the Christmas Side Hunt, where people would go out and shoot as many birds as possible. “Whoever brought in the biggest pile of feathered (and furry) quarry won.” Yes, now we’re appalled at the thought.
In 1900, Frank M. Chapman, an early Audubon Society member and officer, started a new holiday tradition to replace the Side Hunt. It was called the Christmas Bird Census. Instead of destroying wildlife, the society would count them. The data helps scientists keep track of bird populations and health in general, which of course reflects on the environment in which we all must live.
The Audubon Society’s website is easy to use, to get further information, to sign up and to enter the data you collected. There’s even an extensive bibliography for those who want to read more about the various birds of North America. Go to www.audubon.org. Note, for the birder on your holiday list, consider a membership in the society or a donation in the form of a symbolic bird adoption. It’s a nice present and a nice way to support the society. Remember, in your future garden planning, to include plants that draw birds to your back yard. You’ll be rewarded many times over.
Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener program, call 631-727-7850.