December 14

Today in Science

Counting Is for the Birds

Engage in a civic science activity and join thousands of Americans who will be conducting the annual bird census across the country. The 118th annual Christmas Bird Count, a three-week census of birds found across the United States, begins on Dec. 14 and concludes Jan. 5.

Participants spend a day counting all the birds they see within a designated area. Some people go outside to do this, while others, who live within designated areas, can track birds visiting feeders in their yards. You can learn more from the Audubon Society.

The Audubon Society and other organizations use data collected in this census to assess the health of bird populations -- and to help guide conservation action. In the past, Christmas Bird Counts noted declining American black duck populations and civic groups were able to pressure the government into putting hunting restrictions into place to protect the species. More recent counts have helped highlight which once familiar bird species are becoming endangered in order to better inform policymakers.

The first Christmas Bird Count was held on Dec. 25, 1900, and was the idea of ornithologist and Audubon Society member Frank Chapman, who was concerned about the effect over-hunting was having on bird populations. He and 26 others sighted 90 different bird species in counts that ranged from Toronto, Ontario, to Pacific Grove, California, as part of that first census.

Science NetLinks treasures our feathery friends and offers a variety of resources to learn more about them:

  • Raven Planning, a Science Update focusing on how, like great apes, ravens are capable of planning ahead.
  • 2013 BioBlitz: Morning Bird Inventory is a video blog post from the event in Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve in southern Louisiana.
  • All about Birds, for all ages, is a comprehensive, online guide to birds from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.
  • Bird Populations, a high school lesson about patterns and changes in bird species.
  • Bird Migration & Climate Change, a Science Update focusing on how climate  change could be leading to food shortages for migrating birds.
  • Bird Beaks, a grades 3-5 lesson focusing on the relationship between a bird's beak and its ability to find food and survive in a given environment.
  • Burrowing Owls, a middle school lesson that explores how humans can affect or change ecosystems for other species, specifically the Burrowing Owl.
  • Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard, a lesson for grades 3-5, engages students in meaningful observation of the natural world by sketching common birds in their area.
  • Passenger Pigeons: Nomads Lost, a middle school lesson that considers the human forces that drove the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon.
  • Feather Analysis, a Science Update podcast discussing a new technique for tracking birds.
  • Crow Smarts, a middle school lesson that helps students explore what a tool is and if people are the only tool makers.

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