By David J. Ringer, National Audubon Society
The National Audubon Society wrapped up its 111th Christmas Bird Count (CBC) this week. The survey sends tens of thousands of volunteers into the field across the Western Hemisphere each year. Their mission: to count all the birds – both number of species and individuals – that they can find in 15-mile-wide circular study sites. Over time, all of this data has proved to be a valuable indicator of bird population trends.
In coastal Louisiana, the history of the Christmas Bird Count stretches all the way back to 1900, the very first year the count was held. That year, a woman identified only as Mrs. L.G. Baldwin reported eight species from Baldwin, La., between New Iberia and Morgan City.
This year, of course, participants were counting in the wake of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. New Orleans-based AP reporter Cain Burdeau accompanied a team of birders during the Grand Isle, La. CBC on Dec. 22. His widely published story describes what counters experienced, even as BP cleanup crews continued combing the beaches in search of lingering oil.
Audubon scientists will publish a 40-year analysis of Gulf Coast bird populations based on CBC data in 2011, and they will begin analyzing data from the 2010-11 CBC season forward to look for oil-spill impacts in years to come. For more information about Christmas Bird Counts along the Gulf of Mexico, see Audubon’s Q&A.