Vail Daily column: Christmas Bird Count: It’s not just for the birds
Christmas lights are up, shoppers are in search of the perfect gift and delicious treats seem to be everywhere, no matter how strong your willpower may be; the holiday season has officially arrived. This bustling time of year also marks the annual Christmas Bird Count, the longest running citizen science survey in the world. This great opportunity to practice your birding skills, contribute to an important citizen science effort and help the birds you see on a daily basis will take place at 10 a.m. Dec. 14.
Citizen science is the idea of taking advantage of field observations and data gathered by members of the community who are not scientists. Some credit the Christmas Bird Count as being the first organized effort to utilize this concept.
THE ORIGINS OF THE BIRD COUNT
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The Christmas Bird Count started in the year 1900 thanks to ornithologist Frank Chapman. Chapman observed the Christmastime “side hunts,” which consisted of hunting competitions in which competitors tried to kill as many birds as possible in a single day. Chapman proposed that instead of hunting as many birds as possible, citizens could instead count and identify as many birds as possible.
The first Christmas Bird Count was conducted by fewer than 30 people and today takes place in thousands of sites across North America involving tens of thousands of people from novice bird watchers to experienced birders.
The Christmas Bird Count provides powerful data regarding species diversity and population numbers of those species in a specific geographic area. With 114 years of data, the Christmas Bird Count can track changes in early winter populations across North America, which is invaluable to researchers interested in long-term studies. The Christmas Bird Count also provides a friendly and welcoming avenue into the fantastic hobby of bird watching. Despite its name, the Christmas Bird Count doesn’t necessarily happen on Christmas Day. The study is conducted on one day during a three-week time period. Groups are given circles that have a diameter of 15 miles and are covered by at least 10 volunteers. The surveyors usually split into smaller groups for efficiency. During the survey, volunteers note every different bird species observed and count the number of individuals. This data is then compiled with surveys from across North America.
The local Christmas Bird Count will happen Dec. 14 at 10 a.m. and will leave from a fellow birder’s residence in Eby Creek. Christmas Bird Count participants should call Jerry Fedrizzi at 970-328-6961 or JoAnn Potter Riggle at 970-390-6171 for more information or to sign up.
Beginning birders are welcome and will be paired with citizen scientists with more birding experience. A potluck will follow the survey.
Molly Schreiner is a graduate fellow educator at Walking Mountain Science Center in Avon. She can’t wait for the Christmas Bird Count, and her favorite bird is the American white pelican.
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