December 1, 2014

Holidays Are For the Birds!

By Mary Kay Carson 

Tom Uhlman Photography
Temperatures have dropped, stores are filled with red and green, and pumpkin pie spice is pretty much everywhere and in everything. Yep, the holidays are upon us! No matter where you live and which days of feasting and festivities you observe, there's one annual tradition that's fun for everyone and important for science, too. Audubon's Christmas Bird Count has been happening since 1900! Between December 14th and January 5th every year, tens of thousands of birdwatchers identify and count the birds they see. The numbers they collect and submit provide critical data on bird populations. Researchers and conservation biologists have used the century of data to track and study the long-term health and status of birds across North America. Here's a link if you want to join in:

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Audubon's Christmas Bird Count is the longest running citizen science project in the United States. But it's only one of hundreds of projects around the country that enable and encourage regular people, including students of all ages, to contribute to science. My book Park Scientists: Gila Monsters, Geysers, and Grizzly Bears in America's Own Backyard featured high-school students measuring cacti in a 70-year-long saguaro survey in Saguaro National Park. The kids taking data on the green prickly giants were having fun, but took their data collecting seriously. They'd developed a feeling of stewardship toward the park and its famous cacti. Participating in the survey had created this connection for them.

A terrific and easy-to-do bird count for kids and students is the Great Backyard Bird Count. Students simply observe and count birds for 15 minutes at least once during a four-day period in February (13-16th in 2015) and then submit their findings online. The bird counting can take place in a backyard, nearby park, or even at a feeder outside a warm classroom window. Everything you need to know can be found at the link above, including how to register and enter data—as well as lots of tips on identifying the bird species likely seen. Below is a fun word search to get students engaged in the project. Enjoy!

Happy holidays to you and yours from all of us at Hands-On Books!

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