Animals, News, Science

And A Partridge In A Pear Tree… Check!

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A Western Screech Owl. Image: Randy R. Magnuson
A Western Screech Owl. Image: Randy R. Magnuson

The 115th Christmas Bird Count is officially underway.

The count is an annual census of local and migratory birds and it’s organized by the National Audubon Society. From December 14 to January 5, volunteers will gather in more than 2,000 locations in North, Central and South America to count the birds in their area.

Each count takes place in a circle about 24 kilometres wide. The volunteers follow specific routes within the circle and record the number of individual birds and the different species they see there in a single day.

The results are sent to the National Audubon Society and later published on Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count website.

The data collected during the bird count is a key source of information for ornithologists (scientists who study birds) and conservation biologists. It shows how the numbers and locations of birds change over time and helps the scientists understand the health of bird populations in different places.

This information is used to develop conservation programs to protect bird habitats and the environment in general. Data from the bird count was also used to determine that three species – the Western screech owl, the rusty blackbird and the Newfoundland red crossbill – should be added to Canada’s list of species at risk.

The annual bird count was created to protest another Christmas tradition. In the United States in the 19th century, people would often hold “side hunts” on Christmas Day. Teams of hunters would compete to see who could kill the most birds or other animals that day.

In December 1900, Frank Chapman, an American ornithologist, suggested that instead of hunting birds, people should count them.

Twenty-seven people in 25 locations joined in the first Christmas bird count. Last year, more than 70,000 volunteers took part.

This year, counts are scheduled to take place in 17 countries, ranging from the Arctic to the Antarctic, with most located in Canada and the United States. Instead of taking place only on Christmas day, counts are now held on different days for different areas, over the course of about three weeks.

Counts are usually organized by local birding clubs or naturalist organizations, but anyone can volunteer to help. Information about local counts can be found on websites of organizations like the Audubon Society or Bird Studies Canada.

Last year, 438 counts were carried out in Canada, with more than 13,000 people taking part. The total number of birds recorded in Canada was just over three million. The total was lower than previous years because extremely cold and snowy weather kept many birds out of sight.

The most abundant species spotted by Canadian counters were the American crow, the European starling, and the Canada goose.

Related Links 

Bird Studies Canada: Find a Count Near You

Map of Bird Counts for 2014

Data from 2013 Christmas Bird Count in Canada

Kids Who Bird video

Canada Bird Count video

By Kathleen Tilly

Writing/Discussion Prompt
The people that are going outside to watch and count the birds are mostly just regular people who love birds and nature. However, their work is helping ornithologists (scientists who study birds) and conservation biologists to collect information.

Can you think of another example of regular people helping scientists, politicians, the police or teachers etc.  with their jobs?

Reading Prompt: Elements of Style
The title of an article is designed to spark a reader’s interest. This title is interesting and playful, but it is also connected to the article.

Can you think of 3 other titles for this article?

Identify various elements of style – including word choice and the use of similes, personification, comparative adjectives, and sentences of different types, lengths, and structures – and explain how they help communicate meaning (OME, Reading: 2.4).

Identify various elements of style – including foreshadowing, metaphor, and symbolism – and explain how they help communicate meaning and enhance the effectiveness of texts  (OME, Reading: 2.4).

Language Feature: Verbs
An interesting verb (action word) in this article is “birding”. It means to watch and examine birds.

What other verbs are included in this article? What does each verb mean?