December 13, 2019
By Autumn Russel, Director of Education
Ah, Christmas Day; such a special time. We wake up early, form teams and go out to hunt as many birds (or mammals) as we can! Did I mention that the team with the biggest pile of prey wins?
All right, so this may not be the way we celebrate the holidays today, but in the late 1800’s the Christmas “Side Hunt” was a pretty common tradition. Unfortunately, as the years passed, the piles of game collected during each hunt grew smaller and conservationists grew concerned with shrinking bird populations. In 1900, ornithologist Frank M. Chapman suggested a new tradition: a bird census rather than a hunt.
This year marks the 120th Christmas Bird Count. Between December 14 and January 5, people from all over North and South America will go out during one 24 hour period to count birds. For the last several years, Akron Zoo staff, volunteers and friends have joined the Akron Audubon Society to help conduct the count. These “citizen scientists” walk through rain, sleet and snow (sometimes all three) to count birds in the Akron area.
Okay, so you may think this isn’t the most ideal time to go outside to count birds. It is true that in December and January, migratory birds have already moved to their wintering grounds. The Christmas Bird Count, however, provides helpful information about where certain species are spending the winter. This lets scientists see how bird populations have changed, if wintering grounds have moved and if disease has struck a certain species of birds.
Here is some information scientists have learned so far:
- American crows declined by approximately 20,000 individuals during the West Nile outbreak in 1999-2003.
- Bald eagle populations significantly increased between 1966 and 2006. This tells us that the ban on DDT helped improved the habitats that the eagle lives in.
- Over the last 40 years, bird wintering grounds have moved further northward. More than 60 species now spend winter 100 or more miles further north. Scientists believe this is an indicator of climate change.
If you would like to become a citizen scientist for the Christmas Bird Count, Akron’s date is December 15th, 2019. You can contact the Akron Audubon Chapter here. It is a great way to spend time with friends and family while helping bird populations.