Volunteers are needed across West Virginia to help count birds this holiday season. This Saturday marks the start of the National Audubon Society’s 120th annual Christmas Bird Count.
According to the organization, the winter bird count is the oldest citizen science survey in the world. The count grew out of a holiday tradition of shooting birds to mark the new year. Beginning on Christmas Day in 1900, at the behest of an ornithologist, volunteers began counting birds instead.
Today, the Christmas Bird Count provides scientists with important data on the health of bird populations, said Larry Helgerman, the National Audubon Society’s West Virginia state Christmas Bird Count editor.
“It’s become really a scientific study,” he said.
For example, data collected by the Christmas Bird Count was used in a study released this fall that showed bird populations in the U.S. and Canada have decreased by almost 30 percent over the last 50 years.
Each year, volunteers across the entire Western Hemisphere count as many birds as possible in set 15-mile diameter circles within a designated 24-hour period.
West Virginia has 20 bird count circles. This year’s Christmas Bird Count will run from December 14 through January 5. Citizen scientists will count as many birds as they can in fields, trees and at feeders in the designated circles.
Helgerman said one doesn’t need to be an expert in the world's winged creatures to participate.
“As far as qualifications go, just a love of birds,” he said.
More information about the Christmas Bird Count including where and when West Virginia counts are scheduled can be found here.