…and is a great way to observe wildlife in your community!
The Audubon Christmas Bird count is the longest-running citizen science survey in the world, and this year it takes place December 14 to January 5. Families, students, scientists and birders from beginner to experienced make up the participants who collect important data which help determine bird population trends across the Northern Hemisphere.
The origins of the count date back to the turn of the 20th century. Prior to this, the holiday tradition was known as a “Side Hunt,” where participants would compete by indiscriminately hunting as many feathered and furred animals as they could. In December of 1900, Frank Chapman, an American ornithologist concerned about declining bird populations, proposed counting birds instead of killing them – that year 27 counts took place from Toronto, Ontario to Pacific Grove, California.
Today hundreds of thousands of participants collect the data from all over the Northern Hemisphere, which provides insight for conservation biologists, researchers and the public about how bird populations change over time. Most importantly, this data informs strategies to help protect birds and their habitat – and even sheds light on environmental issues that can impact human populations.
So how can you get your students interested?
- Participate in the Bird Count! Find a count near you.
- If participating in the Bird Count isn’t feasible for your class (it requires organizing a field trip and count days are often on the weekend) there are other options to engage your students. Set up your own class or school-wide bird count. Take your class to the schoolyard or a local park to observe the wildlife, including signs of their presence (ie: feathers, nests, or tracks). Alternatively, have students take pictures of the birds they encounter over a week. This could be in their backyard, neighbourhood park or on their way to school. As a class, you can attempt to classify and identify the birds from the images.
- Learn about Alberta’s bird species at risk of disappearing from the province (and what we can do about it).
Resources may help you with identification:
Nature Alberta’s Alberta Birds Checklist provides a list of the types of birds you will find in Alberta. You can also check with local birding stores, provincial parks, or local birding clubs for the types of birds specific to your area of the province.
e-bird Canada is a great resource and provides a database for recent sightings, birding activity, hotspots, and checklists. You can contribute your data to the website as well!
Important Bird Areas of Alberta are promoted by Nature Alberta, and this comprehensive guide features many of the important bird areas in the province through images, maps, and important and interesting facts.
More citizen science in action! The University of Alberta’s Bird Window Collisions Project depends on the public to let them know about bird window collisions and their website contains advice on preventing this necessary but common cause of death to birds.
Injured wildlife: Discuss with your students what to do if they see injured or orphaned wildlife including birds.
Counting, observing and learning about birds could spark an interest and may inspire your students (or even yourself) to participate in an organized bird count in the future. Increasing our awareness of wildlife through simple actions like observing birds in our backyards can nurture the connection we have with our natural environment and enhance our desire to protect it.