Volunteers for the Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC), the longest-running citizen science wildlife survey in the world, will discover that the CBC has undergone several significant changes this year. Fees to participate in the count have been dropped to encourage greater participation, and the annual published report, American Birds, will go digital in 2013, saving more trees for the birds. Christmas Bird Count information will be available online in Spanish for the first time.
From December 14, 2012, to January 5, 2013, tens of thousands of volunteers will add a new layer to data that has shaped conservation and Congressional decisions. Fifty counts are scheduled throughout North Carolina during the 2012-2013 season, ranging from the Highlands Plateau in western North Carolina to Bodie-Pea Island on the Outer Banks.
“We’re dropping fees, adding languages, going digital, and taking citizen science year-round,” said Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold. “The Audubon Christmas Bird Count harnesses volunteer power to gather knowledge that shapes conservation policy at enormous scales in this country. I couldn’t be prouder of the 60,000-plus volunteers who contribute each year: This is the largest, longest-running animal census on the planet, and we’re all proud to be a part of the CBC. And with the elimination of fees, we're looking forward to even more people having a role in this adventure.”
“The Christmas Bird Count is a great way to take a snapshot of how birds are faring in North Carolina and place that in the context of the whole life cycle of birds,” says Curtis Smalling, Director of Landbird Conservation for Audubon North Carolina. “An individual year’s results can help point us in the direction of new realities. Several years’ combined results can start to show us how climate change, large scale habitat changes, or other factors affect the distribution and abundance of our birds. Last year several species like Summer Tanager, Northern Parula, American Redstart, and Baltimore Oriole continued to appear on our counts. These species are more likely to be encountered on counts that Audubon North Carolina helped establish in Nicaragua, where they usually winter.”
Visit the Carolina Bird Club website for detailed information about the North Carolina counts, including a schedule, contact information for count organizers, and a Google map of all the count circles in the state. Many of the count circles include public lands such as state parks, national wildlife refuges, and national seashores, as well as sites on the NC Birding Trail and within Audubon Important Bird Areas.
During the 2011-2012 CBC, North Carolina participants tallied 223 species and 1,023,975 individual birds. Wilmington became the state leader with 160 species counted. Three other counts exceeded 150 species last year, including Southport, Lake Mattamuskeet, and Morehead City. Inland leaders included Greenville at 105 species and 85 species on the Henderson County count, which is a good total for the mountain region. Continuing a recent trend, birders saw more hummingbirds last year, reporting 55 wintering Ruby-throated, 6 Rufous, and single Allen’s and Anna’s Hummingbirds (new to the state count).
“This is not just about counting birds,” says Gary Langham, Audubon’s chief scientist. “Data from the Audubon Christmas Bird Count are at the heart of hundreds peer-reviewed scientific studies and inform decisions by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of the Interior, and the EPA. Because birds are early indicators of environmental threats to habitats we share, this is a vital survey of North America and, increasingly, the Western Hemisphere.”
CBC revealed the dramatic impact climate change is already having on birds and a disturbing decline in common birds, including the Northern Bobwhite quail. The many decades of data not only helps identify birds in need of conservation action, it also reveals success stories. CBC helped document the comeback of the Bald Eagle and significant increases in waterfowl populations, both the result of conservation efforts.
The journal Nature issued an editorial citing CBC as a "model" for Citizen Science. The count began in 1900 when Dr. Frank Chapman, founder of Bird-Lore (which evolved into Audubon magazine) suggested an alternative to the holiday “side hunt,” in which teams competed to see who could shoot the most small game, including birds. Chapman proposed that people count birds instead.
There's still time to participate in this year's CBC! Visit the Carolina Bird Club website to find contact information for count organizers. To see maps of all the counts in NC, visit the Carolina Bird Club website.