Christmas Bird Count is scientific, family-oriented act of community service

Families looking for ways to give back to their communities during the holiday season have lots of opportunities for community service, including the “Christmas Bird Count.”

Families looking for a different community service to do together this holiday season should considering participating in the annual Christmas Bird Count. The 113th Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count, sponsored by the National Audubon Society, will take place from December 14 to January 5. The Christmas Bird Count “provides critical data on population trends” and is “the longest running Citizen Science survey in the world.”

According to the National Audubon Society, prior to the 1900’s “people engaged in a holiday tradition known as the Christmas ‘Side Hunt.’ They would choose sides and go afield with their guns; whoever brought in the biggest pile of feathered (and furred) quarry won.” Frank Chapman, an ornithologist involved in the newly forming Audubon Society proposed a Christmas Bird Census in response to this tradition and the increasing awareness that bird populations were in decline.

The data collected through the Christmas Bird County has helped scientists, conservationists and policy makers to understand changes in bird populations across North America and to lead efforts to protect birds and their habitats. For instance, in 2009, using data from Christmas Bird Count, the National Audubon Society released a report which revealed “that birds seen in North America during the first weeks of winter have moved dramatically northward — toward colder latitudes — over the past four decades.” Using this data, along with temperature records from the same period of time, the report concluded that climate change is “a primary and direct factor in the overall shift of many winter ranges” of bird species.

The report calls on decision makers to implement policies to reduce global warming pollution to “levels recommended by the world’s leading scientists.” This will provide an opportunity to protect birds from the potentially devastating effects of climate change on their habitats. The report concludes that “failure to prevent the worst impacts of global warming would undermine much of the conservation work that Audubon has accomplished over more than a century.”

Those interested in participating in the Christmas Bird Count can use the Audubon website to find a local bird count taking place in their area. The website lists 68 different counts taking place in Michigan between December 15 and January 5. By participating in a local Christmas Bird Count, observers are participating in an community service effort on a global scale. During the112th Christmas Bird Count, observations from 63,227 observers in 2,248 different locations were reported to the National Audubon Society.

Those hoping to catch a glimpse of a rare or endangered species of bird during their participation in the Christmas Bird County may want to take a look at the Michigan Natural Feature Inventory. Maintained by Michigan State University Extension, the inventory includes information and pictures of Michigan birds, as well as other animals, that are endangered, threatened, probably extirpated and of special concern. The inventory can help families prepare to be on the lookout for these special Michigan birds.

Children and youth who participate in community service activities develop skills and knowledge that can lead to a lifelong commitment to service to others. Michigan 4-H provides resources and ideas for youth and families to plan and participate in community service activities. One idea is to make simple birdfeeders using pine cones, peanut butter and bird seeds, and then donating them to nursing homes, hospitals or to neighbors who aren’t able to leave their homes.

If you get swept up in the holiday rush of activities and miss out on all the fun during this year’s Christmas Bird County, mark your calendar for February 15 to 18 and participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count, a joint project of the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which will be taking place for the 16th year in 2013.

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