On February 7, 2023, Geoff LeBaron, Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count director, testified in front of Canadian Parliament, specifically their Committee on Science and Research. The committee is currently studying the importance and contributions of “citizen” science (also referred to as community science). They are interested in learning the value of these types of programs in all fields of study in order to better understand nature in Canada. Geoff shared the history and importance of the Christmas Bird Count, as well as how frequently the Count and other community science programs are used for conservation research—a significant contribution from the public and non-governmental organizations to fulfill a major environmental monitoring need.
“Community Science is an important part of how Audubon and other conservation organizations collect data. For example, tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the Americas brave snow, wind, or rain to take part in the Christmas Bird Count each year. The data collected is then used to assess the health of bird populations throughout the hemisphere and helps to guide conservation action,” explains Geoff, who has been heading up the Christmas Bird Count since 1987.
The Christmas Bird Count is in its 123rd year, making it North America’s longest-running community science bird project. And since its inception in 1900, the program has grown tremendously. Today, volunteers participate in thousands of counts in all 50 US states, in all Canadian provinces, several Central and South American countries, and several Pacific and Caribbean islands. In a predetermined window from mid-December to early January, these groups of volunteers select a day to conduct a count. They often divide into teams and carefully count the numbers of birds of each species that they identify within the boundaries of a carefully prescribed 15-mile diameter circle. They then submit their findings back to Audubon, or in Canada, to partners Birds Canada. The data collected by Christmas Bird Count participants over the years have provided a wealth of information allowing researchers to publish hundreds of peer-reviewed papers on the ecology, conservation status, and population trends of early winter bird populations across North America and throughout the hemisphere.
“I was honored to be invited to speak to the Parliament of Canada about Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count and its importance to our understanding of the status and trends of birds in North America, as well as to the acceptance of “citizen” science data sets by the scientific community,” said Geoff. “Members (of the committee) were especially pleased to hear about the incredible contributions of all participants, and that Christmas Bird Count data are freely available for use in conservation research.”
You can listen to the entire hearing, including Geoff’s testimony here.