An annual bird census kicked off in the Americas this week, calling on volunteers throughout the Western Hemisphere to help assess the health of bird populations and guide conservation action.
The National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count, a tradition currently in its 111th year, began Tuesday and runs through Jan. 5. Participants head out into the wilderness with binoculars, spotting scopes, cellphones, bird guides, and notebooks to jot down every bird they see over a 24-hour period.
The collected data provides researchers and conservation biologists insight into the health of bird populations.
“Each year, volunteers brave snow, wind, cold, ice or rain, often venturing afield during pre-dawn hours, to take part in the Christmas Bird Count, and they have made an enormous contribution to help guide conservation actions,” New York Department of Environmental Conservation Bureau of Wildlife chief Gordon Batcheller said in the release.
The CBC takes place in designated “count circles” fifteen miles in diameter, in both urban and rural areas. Each circle is supervised by a “count compiler,” who is an experienced birder, giving beginning bird-watchers a chance to get an effective introduction to bird identification.
Based on the collected findings, the National Audubon Society has noticed a trend in recent years: global warming has driven birds steadily north at a rate of one mile a year, the New York Times reports.
Audubon said in a release that this year’s census will be especially significant in evaluating the impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on bird populations.