Jan 08, 2015 06:25 PM EST
December wasn't just a month for stockings stuffers and sugar-coated deserts--it was also a fantastic time of the year to indulge in bird watching. Though anyone was able to check out the sights overhead, a few more dedicated ornithologists participated this year in the 115th annual Audubon Bird Watch, cataloging their sightings and later contributing to official population counts for the United States. And this year, there were a few particular noteworthy finds in the sky--four, to be exact.
"The annual bird census enables scientists to see long-term trends in bird populations and range," says Andy McCormick, president of Eastside Audubon. "Many birds are on the brink of losing suitable habitat due to climate change."
The Audubon Christmas Bird Count is one of the oldest traditions in the nation. At 115-years-old, the tradition continues to grow, and this season's bird count was conducted by more than 70,000 volunteers. Braving the elements and this year's cold spells to sight and catalog avian fauna, the volunteers spanned the nation in 2,639 different locations across the United States. And their efforts weren't in vain. In fact, this year's participants marked a landmark in the Audubon Bird Count's history, showing how vast the Audubon Society has grown.
In Chicago, Illinois alone, a species of water fowl, the Sandhill Crane (Grus Canadensis), made a grand comeback in the annual bird count.
"The [s]andhill [c]ranes bird count, the previous year was six, and this year there were 900 of them. By middle to end of December in northern Illinois, they're usually gone," says Joel Greenbrid, head count complier of the Chicago Audubon Bird Watch. "So to get big flights this late is unusual. If it was in March or October or November, it wouldn't have been; but being late December, it's unusual."
And, in a time in our Earth's history when we're seeing more-and-more deforestation and species entering the history books, it's a breath of fresh air to see organisms flourishing in what are otherwise dire circumstances.
"Not only is the Audubon Christmas Bird Count an important ongoing census of our winter birds, it's also a fun and exciting way to learn more about the birds in your area with others that are knowledgeable and enthusiastic," Director of Education at Audubon's Francis Beidler Forest, Matt Johnson says. "Each year, our local counts reveal important information about some of our most imperiled birds, and it's from these long-term data that we learn how birds are responding to things like deforestation, invasive species, and climate change."
Other species that made noticeable climbs in population counts include Golden Eagles, Turkey Vultures, and Great Blue Herons.
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