This Christmas tradition is for the birds.
We’re talking about the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, where thousands of bird-watchers across the nation gather in teams during the holiday season and beat the bushes to count their feathered friends.
The annual counts, which take place from Dec. 14 through Jan. 5, are now in their 117th year.
The first count featured 27 birders, 25 counts and 90 species of birds found. By last year, 76,669 birders took part in 2,505 counts and found almost 59 million birds, including 2,607 species.
Counts in 2015 were conducted not only in the United States, but Canada, Latin America, the Caribbean, Bermuda and the Pacific Islands as well.
For many birders, the annual winter counts are as much of a Christmas tradition as decorated trees and wrapped packages.
The counts actually got started before the start of the 20th century, when hunters took part in a Christmas Side Hunt. They took sides, went into the field with their guns and shot at every feathered creature they could find. The team that brought in the biggest pile of birds won.
But as scientists and biologists began to worry about declining bird populations, that tradition was changed. Noted ornithologist Frank M. Chapman proposed a new holiday pastime, in which birds were counted, not shot. And it quickly gained popularity.
Today, results from Christmas Bird Counts are used for scientific purposes, such as outlining species’ population trends, changes in distribution and abundance of certain birds.
Many of the counts will take place this weekend in Missouri and Kansas. To take part, go to the website http://www.audubon.org/conservation/science/christmas-bird-count for information on location and details about specific counts.