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Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count in full flight

December 22nd, 2008

By Harriet Blake
Green Right Now

Geoff LeBaron gets paid to count birds, among other things. And this is an especially busy time of year for him and all bird watchers. From Dec. 14 through Jan. 5 the National Audubon Society conducts its annual Christmas Bird Count. LeBaron has served as its director since 1987.

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“It’s neat to be able to work for the National Audubon Society in this [endeavor] that brings birding and ornithology together,” LeBaron says, explaining that ornithologists like himself are trained scientists who study what birds do, while birders are folks, also like himself, who are captivated by watching birds. Not all ornithologists, he points out, enjoy birdwatching as a pastime.

“The Christmas Bird Count is a unique crossover with ‘citizen scientists’ making important contributions. These amateurs have an impact on the overall knowledge [of ornithology].”

So what exactly is the Christmas Bird Count? The count was initiated by ornithologist Frank Chapman in 1900 as an alternative to the traditional holiday ‘side hunt,’ in which teams went up against each other to see which group could shoot the most birds. Chapman, who worked for the American Museum of Natural History, suggested that instead of shooting, they count birds in order to identify and record their numbers. He realized that declining bird populations could not survive over-hunting.

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