Nothing says “Happy Holidays” like an organized bird kill just for the heck of it. Great fun, eh?
But at the turn of the 20th century, people saw “side hunts” as a holiday tradition during which contests were held to see who could kill more animals and birds than anyone else. At the end of the day, the person with the biggest pile of dead feathered and furry bodies won.
Now, before hunting advocates get up in arms (pun intended) let me ask you: How many mourning doves does it take to make a meal?
Early in the 1900s, observers and scientists were becoming concerned that bird populations were in decline due to men’s caprice and women’s hats.
On Christmas Day 1900, ornithologist Frank Chapman, an officer in the newly formed Audubon Society, proposed that the organization begin a new holiday tradition in which the whole family could participate. Rather than shoot birds, the society would encourage people to count them for a census.
The first Christmas Bird Count, which started that year with 27 dedicated birders in 25 locations from Ontario to California, recorded 90 species and 18,500 birds.
Since then, the annual event has grown each year with participants dedicating 24 hours from Dec. 14 through Jan. 5 to identify, count and add the information to their official counts.
In 2013, more than 2,300 circles of people in more than 15 countries around the world recorded more than 640 species of wild birds. The 114th CBC wraps up tomorrow.
In one local circle, participants concentrate on the birds in downtown Akron at Glendale Cemetery, Canal Park stadium and the zoo. On Dec. 14, people in the circle — which included 23 zoo staff members and volunteers — collectively walked more than 20 miles in 24 degree temperatures and counted 4,062 birds of 31 different species. They observed 2,286 American crows and 330 Canada geese and reported seeing a red-winged blackbird, a red shouldered hawk, a belted kingfisher and an American coot.
The annual Christmas Bird Count is one of the best examples of “Citizen Science,” where amateur birders gather information that provides critical data on avian population trends.
The information is compiled by the National Audubon Society for scientists who study the long-term health and status of bird populations. The data can lead to new conservation measures to guide efforts about bird welfare, and consequently, the welfare of humanity. The information might lead the government to limit hunting to protect the survival of a species or give scientists information they need to study the effects climate change has on bird species.
From observing the birds in backyard feeders from inside their warm homes, to field observers who brave the cold and snow outdoors, everyone who takes part in the CBC does it because they love birds. And perhaps, like those who participated in the side hunts of two centuries ago, relish a bit of friendly competition while knowing their efforts make a difference for science and bird conservation.
Learn more about the CBC and the information it provides for conservation at http://birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count.
And if you think a bird count is something you might like to participate in but have only a limited amount of time to dedicate to it, check out the Great Backyard Bird Count held from Feb. 14-17 each year.
The GBBC count invites birdwatchers of all ages to count the birds in their backyard feeders in 15-minute sessions to create a real-time snapshot of where birds are located at that time.
Everyone is welcome to participate in the joint project conducted by Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society. Visit www.birdsource.org/gbbc/howto.html on the Web to learn how you can participate.
Other animals in the news:
Cabin Fever Reliever — Suffering from the winter blahs? The Akron Zoo will hold special events from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturdays in January starting today through Jan. 25. Craft stations will be set up inside and free hot chocolate will be served. The event is free with admission to the zoo, which is operating under its winter hours from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, visit www.akronzoo.org or call 330-375-2550.
Kathy Antoniotti writes about pets for the Akron Beacon Journal. She is unable to help locate, place or provide medical attention for an individual animal. If you have an idea or question about pets, write her at the Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640; call 330-996-3565; or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.