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Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count.

The longest-running citizen science survey in the world, the Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC), will take place Dec. 14-Jan. 5, 2014. Tens of thousands of volunteers throughout North America will brave winter weather to add a new layer to data that has shaped conservation and Congressional decisions for more than a century.

Each year, the Audubon Christmas Bird Count mobilizes over 70,000 volunteers in 2,300-plus locations across the Western Hemisphere, from above the Arctic Circle to Brooklyn, N.Y., and Los Angeles, Calif., to Tierra del Fuego. CBC tracks the health of bird populations at a scale that professional scientists never could accomplish alone.

"Audubon was a social network before the world ever heard the term," points out David Yarnold, president and CEO.

Last year's count shattered records: 2,369 counts and 71,531 people tallied more than 60,000,000 birds of 2,296 different species. Counts took place in all 50 states, every Canadian province, and over 100 count circles in Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Islands. Three new counts were welcomed in Cuba, where, for the first time, the tiniest bird in the world, the Bee Hummingbird, was included in the results.

Several interesting avian incursions were recorded during last year's CBC, including those of Northern Shrikes, Snowy Owls, and Winter Finches. The most significant event was an unprecedented movement of Razorbills (a Puffin relative) in huge numbers far south of their normal range off the East Coast of North America. Warming sea temperatures in the North Atlantic, which depressed their usual food supply, resulted in tremendous numbers of hungry Razorbills almost 1,000 miles farther south than normal.

Prior to 2012, there were few records of Razorbill in Florida and parts of the upper Gulf of Mexico. It is unknown how many of these birds were able to return northward to their breeding grounds for the summer of 2013; many washed up dead along the coast.

"This is not just about counting birds,' notes Gary Langham, Audubon's chief scientist. "Data from the Audubon Christmas Bird Count is at the heart of hundreds peer-reviewed scientific studies and inform decisions by the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of the Interior, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Because birds are early indicators of environmental threats to habitats we share, this is a vital survey of North America and, increasingly, the Western Hemisphere."

The Christmas Bird Count began in 1900 when Frank Chapman, founder of Bird-Lore--which evolved into Audubon magazine--suggested an alternative to the holiday "side hunt," in which teams competed to see who could shoot the most birds.

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Title Annotation:Bird Watching
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Geographic Code:100NA
Date:Dec 1, 2013
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