Help Bring Nation’s Longest-Running Citizen Science Project To Los Alamos

Sharp-shinned hawk, photo by Mouser Williams. Courtesy/PEEC

PEEC News:

With the diversity of bird species and the number of birders in Los Alamos, it’s easy to wonder why the Christmas Bird Count, the longest-running citizen science project nationwide, has yet to come to Los Alamos.

A group of local birders have decided that it is time to change that, and they intend to submit an application to the National Audubon Society. As part of the application, in order to demonstrate sufficient interest and logistical support, PEEC will sponsor a “mock” Christmas Bird Count 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, March 8. Community members are encouraged to take part as much or as little as they would like, from going out as part of a bird-counting team, to counting birds in their own backyard.

The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) has a long and interesting history. In the 1800’s, many in North America participated in a common holiday tradition of going out on Christmas day and competing to kill as many birds as possible. At the turn of the 20th century, American ornithologist Frank Chapman suggested that perhaps it would be better to simply count the birds rather than shoot them. Chapman enlisted the help of 26 like-minded bird enthusiasts and in December of 1900, held the first annual CBC.

For the last 115 years, the National Audubon Society has been conducting these counts every winter. Volunteers gather to count and identify every bird they can find in a fixed 15-mile diameter circle over the course of one calendar day. Every year has attracted more volunteers than the last, as well as more count circles. This past holiday season drew approximately 75,000 people to counts in more than 2,300 circles from the Arctic Circle to the southern tip of South America, including 33 counts in New Mexico.

The CBC is now the nation’s longest-running citizen science project, and the data from the CBC archives have proven invaluable to ecologists and ornithologists studying the changes in bird populations and ranges over the last century.  

The event on March 8 is open to all experience levels. A core group of experienced birders will lead field teams to various locations throughout Los Alamos county and surrounding locales for a full day of birding. Everyone who joins the count will be assigned to a team that includes at least one expert. There is no better way to learn how to recognize the local winter resident birds than to spend a day out amongst them.

Some teams will be hiking up in the mountains or down to the river, while others will take leisurely strolls in town. Each individual can determine the level of physical effort with which s/he is comfortable. Even those who don’t want to hike at all, can count the birds in their backyard feeders.

There will be a get-together with pizza after the count, where all of the data from the count teams will be compiled, and participants will have the opportunity to share stories about what they saw and heard.

There is no charge for participating in the count, though a small donation will be requested from those who choose to stay for pizza.  

Please register at www.PajaritoEEC.org if you would like to participate, for any amount of time or in any capacity – either on a field team or as a backyard feeder watcher – so that teams can be assembled and the organizers can have an accurate count of how many will be participating.

For more information about this and other PEEC programs, visit www.PajaritoEEC.org or contact the organization at Programs@PajaritoEEC.org or 505.662.0460. Specific questions about the count on March 8 can be directed to Mouser Williams at mouser@mouser.org.

The Pajarito Environmental Education Center (PEEC) was founded in 2000 to serve the community of Los Alamos. It offers people of all ages a way to enrich their lives by strengthening their connections to our canyons, mesas, mountains, and skies. PEEC maintains a nature center, holds regular programs and events, and hosts a number of interest groups from birding to hiking to butterfly watching. PEEC activities are open to everyone; however members receive exclusive benefits such as discounts on programs and merchandise. Annual memberships start at $20. To learn more, visit http://www.PajaritoEEC.org.

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