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What Is the Annual Christmas Bird Count and How Does It Help Birds?

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The Annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is conducted each year by the Audubon Society, in an effort to assist the survival of avian species.

Birds around North America are being studied in the program which calls on observers of all experience levels to record sightings of various birds.

Data from the study will be examined, together with information from older, similar programs, such as the Breeding Bird Survey. Together, these observations will assist biologists in their study of how bird populations have changed over the last 100 years.

Humans may also directly benefit from bird population data collected over a century. Long-term movements of avian species from one area to another could signal poisoning of local areas from misuse of pesticides or herbicides. Contamination of groundwater could also be located by studying long-term movements of birds around the continent.

Smaller populations of American black ducks were observed migrating to winter habitats in an Audubon Society survey in the 1980's. This information led to greater conservation efforts to restore the species to their normal numbers.

Audubon Society surveys, including data from previous years of the CBC program, has been selected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as one of 26 indicators of climate change.

Populations of waterbirds have been examined by researchers from the Audubon Society, in an effort to determine how numbers of the birds have altered over time.

The Christmas Bird Count started in 1900, when 27 people answered an ad in Bird-Lore magazine, each spending time outside on Christmas Day, counting birds near their homes. During 2004-2005, 56,623 people from 2,000 locations participated in the count. Together, they counted almost 70 million birds. This growth is dramatic, but it has led some researchers to question whether or not the CBC constitutes "real" science.

"Scientists have answered that question by publishing dozens of papers in peer-reviewed journals based on CBC analysis. We believe, specifically, that the CBC provides valuable information on population dynamics and trends for hundreds of North American bird species that are frequently encountered on the CBC," Audubon Society managers wrote on their Web site.

The 115th annual survey will take place from December 14, 2014 to January 5, 2015. Participation in each region will last one day during that period.

"The data collected by CBC participants over the past century and more have become one of only two large pools of information informing ornithologists and conservation biologists how the birds of the Americas are faring over time," the Audubon Society reports.

Individuals interested in participating in the 2014 Christmas Bird Count can register using an online form available from the Audubon Society. There is no fee to take part in the study. 

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