FALLS CHURCH, Va. — This winter, you may notice what appears to be a binocular brigade, counting birds in your local woods.
From Central Park to backyards in Biloxi, tens of thousands of citizen scientists are taking action. For some, these counts are a competitive sport. To many, they serve as a real way to tackle environmental challenges.
Because birds are early indicators that a habitat is disturbed, they are often called “canaries in the coal mine” for such threats as global warming, polluted rivers and decline of wetlands.
“Everyone who takes part in Audubon bird counts plays a critical role in helping us focus conservation where it is most needed,” said Tom Bancroft, chief scientist for Audubon.
“These counts are the foundation for Audubon’s State of the Birds Reports, like our Common Birds in Decline analysis, which attracted worldwide concern when it revealed precipitous declines among many of our nation’s most familiar birds.”
Audubon counts also reveal good news, for example the return of the once-endangered American bald eagle.
Bird counts, along with bird watching, are gaining in popularity. Because of the Internet, birders can see online where the birds are, and whether their numbers are up or down from last year or a decade ago.
Citizen scientists can also see that their contributions matter, because they help build a body of scientific data that no single researcher could collect in a lifetime.
“No researcher could afford to pay this many people to go out and get this kind of information,” said Greg Butcher, Audubon director of bird conservation.
Besides, for many, it’s a wintertime tradition shared with good friends and family. It’s also a feel-good exercise and less expensive than any shopping mall.
Audubon has counts suitable for all ages and degrees of experience. Here are two counts you can join or watch online this winter:
– The Christmas Bird Count, founded in 1900, occurs every year between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5.
– The Great Backyard Bird Count occurs during President’s Day weekend, Feb. 13-16, 2009.
For more information, visit Citizen Science.