Citizen Science: Christmas Bird Count

Citizen Science is something that we’re passionate about at EartHand, and we’re pleased to present this guest post by ecologist and EartHand Board President Jason Jones about the Audobon Society’s Christmas Bird Count – the longest running Citizen Science Bird project in the world – and birds at Trillium North Park.

If you would like to join our Citizen Science and Stewardship Group, please contact us with ‘Stewardship’ in the subject line.

photo credit: Camilla Cerea/Audubon for the Christmas Bird Count

All across the Americas in December and early January, wild bird enthusiasts bundle up and head outdoors to participate in their local Christmas Bird Count (CBC)

Started in 1900 by members of then-very-young Audubon Society, the CBC has grown to be one of the largest and longest Citizen Science projects in the world. In the 2014-15 CBC period in Canada alone, over 14,000 people participated in 460 separate counts tallying over 3.5 million birds. Data from the CBC allow scientists and conservationists to track changes in bird populations and distributions over a long period of time, thereby providing clues to how best protect species at risk and to provide an early warning system (a canary in a coal mine, if you will) for population declines of common species.

A critical aspects of these counts is that they are conducted in your backyard, both figuratively and literally. Indeed, one of the key findings of the CBC is an appreciation for how important green spaces in urban and suburban environments (including backyards) can be for birds at all times of year. In Trillium North Park alone, over 20 native bird species have been recorded in the past year in the small park, including some of the West Coast’s signature species like the Stellar’s Jay. Keep an eye out to see who you can see the next time you visit us at the park.

The first CBC in Vancouver was conducted in 1958. The 2015-6 CBC in Vancouver occurs today, December 20. The City’s 24-km radius count area is centered in Mount Pleasant and extends north into the North Shore Mountains, west to encompass all of the UBC peninsula and parts of Howe Sound, south through Richmond, and east to Burnaby Mountain. For more information on local CBC efforts and on local birding activities in general, check with Nature Vancouver

There are many things we can do to improve the value of our personal and community green spaces for the birds:

  1. Keep cats indoors. Feral and pet cats kill millions of birds in North America each year.
  2. Ensure that there is a source of clean, fresh water. Water can be a tremendously limiting resource for birds. Change water frequently to prevent stagnation and breeding of pest insects (e.g., mosquitoes).
  3. Cultivate and encourage native plant species that provide food or shelter for birds (e.g., red flowering current or nodding onion for hummingbirds, elderberry for fruit eaters) and beneficial insects (e.g., asters, camas, yarrow).

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we are very fortunate in Vancouver to have so many parks to visit and enjoy. It is important treat our communal public green spaces with the respect they deserve, not only for the value they provide wildlife but the value they provide our communities.

If you would like to join our Citizen Science and Stewardship Group, please contact us with ‘Stewardship’ in the subject line.

Jason Jones is a terrestrial ecologist and the president of the board of EartHand Gleaners Society.