Seventy-three intrepid volunteers spent last Sunday morning counting birds in New York City’s Central Park, where the 113th annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count began on December 25, 1900. There, as elsewhere all across the country, evidence emerged of this year’s massive southward irruption of hungry seed-eating birds from Canada’s boreal forests, where cone crops failed this year. Data from decades of counts are used to interpret such events and to distinguish annual variations like this year’s irruption from long-term trends, like the clear, long-term northward shift in the winter ranges of dozens of species due to climate change.
According to John Rowden, Associate Director for Citizen Science for NYC Audubon,”2012 witnessed higher numbers than seen in 2011, and there were a number of unusual species seen this year, possibly as a result of irruptions from the north. Notable species included 2 Common Redpolls and 4 White-winged Crossbills. Also, we had a lot of Tufted Titmice, double the number counted last year. They made it onto our list of top 10 most abundant species.” Central Park is a vital oasis for birds along the Atlantic Flyway, and total number of species can reach 275 during spring migration. Like Prospect Park in Brooklyn, another CBC count site, it is one of Audubon’s Important Bird Areas designated to protect habitat for birds and other wildlife. Birds are early indicators of environmental problems.
“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.”
The longest running wildlife survey in the world, Audubon’s annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) has continued through World Wars I and II and The Great Depression. The holiday tradition began when ornithologist Frank Chapman proposed that people “hunt” birds only to count them. Dr. Chapman’s initiative came during a time when birds were being slaughtered for fashionable hats. Now the greatest threats to birds include sprawl, development, loss of wetlands and climate change.
The count is undergoing several significant changes this year as Audubon builds on the program’s success to entice birdwatchers to lend their eyes and ears year round. 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 is available online in Spanish for the first time. And in 2013, Audubon will begin to extend conservation-focused observation efforts throughout the seasons.
“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.”
More about the Central Park Count in Audubon magazine
The count continues until January 5. To find a count near you: http://birds.audubon.org/get-involved-christmas-bird-count
To see the full list of birds by species for Central Park
Ten Things We Learned from Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count