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Counting for Conservation! The 112th Christmas Bird Count

Wednesday, December 14th 2011 9:38:48am

For immediate release

(Toronto, Dec. 14, 2011 - Nearly 60 Ontario Nature member groups are leading bird counts this year in communities across Ontario, significantly bettering last year’s mark of 40. The most southerly count will be at Point Pelee, the most northerly will be coordinated by the Thunder Bay Field Naturalists in 13 communities (such as Red Lake, Ignace and Fort Frances). All bird counts are open to the public and, for many, the counts have become a holiday tradition as predictable as bad Christmas sweaters.

This year, nearly 400 Christmas Bird Counts will be held in Canada - 125 in Ontario alone - attended by some 12,000 volunteer, citizen scientists. Last year, counts were held in every Canadian province and the almost 12,000 participants identified a whopping 3.3 million birds.

In Ontario, on Christmas day in 1900, 27 observers went out in 25 towns to count birds for a census.  More than a century later, the now annual event is the single longest running and most popular bird survey in the Western Hemisphere. This year, the Christmas Bird Count is expected to attract more than 50,000 observers in 2,000 locations across North America. The count begins on December 14 and continues until January 5, 2012.

The counts are conducted over the course of a single day. 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 effectively determine and evaluate conservation activities.

Caroline Schultz, Executive Director of Ontario Nature observed, “The volunteer-driven counts provide essential information to help us protect wildlife. The Christmas Bird Count contributes enormously to our understanding the dynamics of bird populations across Ontario. I join the Uxbridge count each year and love seeing how much fun birders of all abilities have and how proud they are to make such a meaningful contribution to scientific research.”

The Christmas Bird Count began as the Christmas Bird Census, a once popular annual hunt where 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 in motion what has become an extraordinary conservation tool.

Bird Studies Canada coordinates the count in Canada in a joint program with the National Audubon Society. Birders of all skill levels are welcome.

For a full list of the Ontario Nature member groups that are holding bird counts and when, please visit www.ontarionature.org/media/news_releases.

Quick facts:

• Christmas Bird Counts reveal not only population declines but also success stories. The Pickering Field Naturalists observed record highs in 2010 for horned grebe, American crow, red-breasted nuthatch, Carolina wren and a first-ever peregrine falcon sighting.
• Analysis of the 2009 count revealed the dramatic impact that climate change has had on birds across the continent.
• In 2010, 2,215 counts were hosted across North America and 62,624 people recorded over 60 million birds.
• In 2011, Nature London (Ontario) will have hosted a Christmas Bird Count for 101 years running.
• At last year’s Rouge Park count, more than 120 participants recorded 58 different species and more than 5,600 individual birds.

Northern sawwhet owl photographed at a Christmas Bird Count by Betsy Higgins

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For more information, please contact:

John Hassell, Communications Coordinator, Ontario Nature: 416-444-8419 ext.269; cell: 416-786-2171; johnh@ontarionature.org.

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

Photos are available and we can provide local contacts for interviews.

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.