Each year tens of thousands of bird enthusiasts and thoughtful citizens participate in the largest and oldest citizen science project on the planet. The Christmas Bird Count, a program of the National Audubon Society (with a whole lot of support from Cornell) trains and stages an enormous campaign to measure and monitor American birds. There work, of course, is more than just a trivial count, it is a remarkable contribution to what we know about habitat change, climate change, species transition, and overall landscape fragmentation. The Christmas Bird Count and its 113 years of data, is an ecological treasure.
What I find most remarkable about the Christmas Bird Count is simply that it is conducted largely by volunteer citizen scientists. Though certainly assisted by professionally trained ornithologists and scientific methods gurus, the bulk of the data is collected by folks just like you and me. My work on the socioeconomic value of community food production has also relied heavily on citizen scientists. Collaboration with bird enthusiasts, gardeners, and many others permits widespread authentic data collection in ways scientists simply could not afford any other way. Furthermore, it is just a great deal of fun! If you are going to be out gardening, why not collect the data that will help gardeners in the future? It is in many ways the rebirth of traditional ecological knowledge, shared these days not only through oral tradition, but through portable electronic devices, fancy models, and sophisticated websites.
If you are itching to get outside, you should know the count starts in just two days! The program runs from December 14th through January 5th. It's free and they need your help!! Visit the Audubon Search Site to find a counting circle meeting near you.
** Also don't miss our Guest Post from Jacelyn Downey, Community Naturalist for the Audubon Society. **
Vincent M. Smith - PhD