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Citizen scientists get out for the Count - The 111th Christmas Bird Count

Wednesday, December 15th 2010 4:02:20pm

For Immediate Release

Toronto, December 15, 2010 – As they have done for more than a century, bird watchers across North America are flocking to designated areas in their neighbourhoods to count birds.The annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is the single longest running and most popular bird survey conducted almost entirely by volunteers who provide indispensable data revealing trends in bird populations throughout the Western Hemisphere. The count begins this week and continues until January 5, 2011.

This year, nearly 40 Ontario Nature member groups are leading bird counts in communities as far north as Thunder Bay, to Point Pelee in the south, and Kingston in the east. All bird counts are open to the public.

The counts are conducted over the course of a single day and volunteers are assigned specific routes within a 24-kilometre diameter circle. The data collected allow researchers and conservation organizations to study the long-term health, population numbers, and ranges of birds across North America. Armed with this information, groups like Ontario Nature can then identify threats to birds and their habitat, and determine appropriate conservation action.

Caroline Schultz, Executive Director of Ontario Nature, says “As with all citizen scientist surveys, we rely on volunteers to provide critically important information to help us in our wildlife conservation efforts. The Christmas Bird Count contributes enormously to our understanding of bird life in Ontario and elsewhere. It’s the perfect opportunity for individuals, regardless of age or expertise, to make a meaningful difference.”

The CBC started out as the Christmas Bird Census, a once popular annual hunt during which teams competed to see who could shoot the most birds and small game as a Christmas day activity. American ornithologist Frank Chapman’s suggestion, in 1900, that birds be counted instead of shot changed the course of ornithological history and set the stage for creating an extraordinary conservation tool on behalf of birds and the environment.

Today, nearly 400 Christmas Bird Counts are held in Canada – and more than 100 in Ontario alone – with some 12,000 volunteer participants. Last year, over 2,100 bird counts were conducted across the Americas.

Bird Studies Canada coordinates the count in Canada in a joint program with the National Audubon Society.Counts are open to birders of all skill levels.

For a full list of the Ontario Nature member groups that are holding bird counts and when, please visit the Nature Network on our website, www.ontarionature.org.

Quick facts:
• CBC show population declines and also success stories.The Sault Naturalists, located in Sault Ste. Marie, observed sharp drops in numbers of American goldfinches, pine siskins, tundra swans, white-winged crossbills and common redpolls last year compared to the previous year (2008).However, the group also saw increases in Iceland, Glaucous and Thayer’s gulls during the same time period.
• During last year’s CBC, almost 61,000 volunteers across North America and beyond tallied close to 56 million birds in more than 2,100 counts.Some 12,000 volunteers in Canada participated in 382 counts.
• CBC data have shown alarming trends such as dramatic population declines in northern bobwhites and eastern meadowlarks. It also shows that 60 percent of North America's birds including American goldfinches and American robins are shifting their winter grounds farther northward, likely due to climate change.

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For more information, please contact:

Victoria Foote, Director of Communications, Ontario Nature: 416 444-8419 ext.238; victoriaf@ontarionature.org.

John Hassell, Communications Coordinator, Ontario Nature: 416 444-8419 ext.269; johnh@ontarionature.org.

Ontario Nature protects wild species and wild spaces through conservation, education and public engagement. It connects thousands of individuals and communities with nature through conservation groups across the province (charitable registration #10737 8952 RR0001). For more information, visit www.ontarionature.org.