Imagine this: You can be part of the largest, longest-running animal census on the planet. That’s what I tell new members about one of Audubon’s best-known traditions: the Christmas Bird Count. Begun in 1900 as an alternative to Christmas Day bird hunts, the CBC has become a powerful force for the birds. And its future looks brighter than ever.
Citizen science programs, most notably Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count and the Breeding Bird Survey, are foundational to conservation policy in the United States. Fights over conservation dollars in Congress and statehouses, land management decisions, and wildlife policy are all influenced by information collected through the CBC and other citizen science programs.
We’ve led the way, from the Endangered Species Act listing and eventual recovery of the bald eagle to winning protections for vulnerable waterfowl, including the American black duck. CBC data form a cornerstone of the analyses contained in federal “State of the Birds” reports, a concept pioneered by Audubon.
And today, as birds face unprecedented threats from climate change and energy development, the CBC is more relevant than ever, including the EPA’s use of our data as one of its key climate change indicators.
CBC data are becoming increasingly important not only in documenting current climate change but in predicting the future effects of climate change on North American bird populations. In 2013, using data from the CBC and other sources, Audubon will publish an unprecedented look at potential future bird ranges based on scientific models that illustrate anticipated effects of climate change on hundreds of species in the United States and Canada. If we know what to expect, we can start taking action now to do something about it.
This year there are some big improvements coming to the CBC. For one, we’ve eliminated the long-standing $5 participation fee, making the Christmas Bird Count a free program for the first time since a 50-cent fee was imposed in 1955. It is now more inclusive and accessible than it’s been in nearly 60 years.
And we’re not stopping there. We’re publishing information about the CBC on Audubon.org in Spanish for the first time ever, making information about the program available to millions of Spanish speakers in the United States and throughout the hemisphere as the program continues to expand far beyond our borders.
I’ll be counting birds with my daughter, Nicole, this winter, joining many of you and tens of thousands of others all through the hemisphere, knowing that bird by bird, day by day, we are making a difference.