Christmas Bird Counts - From Small Beginnings, Great Things!
In 1900, ornithologist Frank Chapman and other conservationists were disturbed by the slaughter of birds in an annual Christmas event called the "side hunt." The team that shot the most birds and other small animals was the winner. As a protest and an alternative, Chapman, then editor of Bird-Lore magazine (predecessor of AUDUBON), organized 27 friends in 25 locations on Christmas Day, 1900, to count birds rather than shoot them. The results were published in Bird-Lore , February 1901: "While the exceptionally fine weather on Christmas day was a sufficient inducement to take one afield, we trust that the spirit of wholesome competition aroused by Bird-Lore's bird census added materially to the pleasure of those who took part in it. The results of the census are both interesting and instructive... On the one hand the almost entire absence of such northern species as the Crossbills is noticeable; on the other, the mild season and prevailing absence of snow evidently accounts for the presence of a number of species rarely observed in December..."
Counts that first year were held in 13 states and 2 Canadian provinces, as follows:
The Counts Continue
Today over 45,000 people from all 50 states, every Canadian province, the Caribbean, Central and South America, and the Pacific Islands, participate in more than 1650 counts held during the annual two-and-a-half week period. Each Christmas Bird Count circle is 15 miles in diameter, approximately 177 square miles. Counters try to cover as much of the circle as possible in a 24-hour calendar day, counting each individual bird and species they see. This year's counts will take place between Dec. 20, '96 and Jan. 5, '97.
Why Do Them?
Birds are indicators of overall environmental health. Christmas Bird Count data over time in any given area provides valuable insight into the long-term health of bird populations and the environment. Counts are also fun, even for non-birders or "birders-in-training" - drivers and record-keepers are among the other participants needed!
Geoff LeBaron (firstname.lastname@example.org)
originally appeared in The NAS Chapter Networker, November 1996
This year marks the 106th year of the Christmas Bird Count (CBC). It is unquestionably one of the most successful, and longest-running citizen science monitoring programs ever, and Ohio has been involved with the CBC since its inception in 1900.
The CBC was first instituted by Frank M. Chapman, an ornithologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and an officer in the relatively new Audubon Society. At the turn of the century the depletion of bird populations through unregulated recreational hunting and over-harvesting for the fashion industry of the time were major concerns for many people throughout the U.S. In an attempt to create greater awareness for the plight of bird populations and develop an alternative activity to hunting, Chapman created the Christmas Bird Count.
The first Christmas Bird Count had 27 volunteer participants who counted birds in 25 distinct count circles across 13 different states and two Canadian provinces. They collectively counted 18,500 individual birds and 90 total species. Today there are nearly 50,000 volunteer CBC observers throughout the world.
Professor Lynds Jones of Oberlin was one of the original 27 counters of 1900, thereby securing Ohio's place in history as one of the first states to conduct a Christmas Bird Count. During that first Ohio count, Jones counted 14 species, including a Red-shouldered Hawk, 40 (American) Tree Sparrows, and 14 Purple Finches, and a single (Northern) Cardinal.
Today there are over 60 Audubon Christmas Bird Counts throughout Ohio that attract close to 1,500 volunteer counters who count nearly 20,000 Northern Cardinals annually, and the number of both volunteers and Cardinals goes up each year. It's estimated that nearly three million people in Ohio participate in some form of wildlife-watching activity including bird-watching, bird-feeding, landscaping for birds, nature photography, or some other activity like participating in a local Christmas Bird Count.
To get involved in a Christmas Bird Count near you download a copy of our Audubon Ohio Christmas Bird Count directory by visiting: www.audubonohio.org/2005ChristmasBirdCount.html
This article appeared in the Audubon Ohio News - October 31, 2005, an e-mail distribution from Audubon Ohio.
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