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For some people, Christmas is for the birds

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Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
A black-capped chickadee is among the birds volunteers will likely see during the Audubon Christmas Bird Count. But, many will hope to identify birds that are more rare during the survey.

The holidays mean a lot of different things to different people. For some volunteers, it’s time to go look for birds.

At this time of year, thousands of people across the U.S., spend a day counting birds for the Audubon Christmas Bird Count.

“I think I was in middle school when one of my neighbors picked me up and I helped Bird for the Clinton Circle many years ago. And I was, like, so excited about just being out all day birding,” said Johanna Lentz.

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
A perched northern cardinal yawns on an early winter day.

Now she organizes the bird count in that 15-mile diameter area which includes parts of Washtenaw and Lenawee counties.

“I was in high school and went off to college and then I came back and now I have a chance to actually be the compiler for the circle,” Lentz said.

You can visit this interactive map to see where the circles are in the U.S.

Volunteers visit city parks, state parks, and sometimes a neighboring farmer welcomes the bird counters.

“And then a lot of times you're just driving down the roads and you might have to stop and pull over and, you know, count a red tailed hawk that you see or some turkeys in a field. So it's kind of a combination of some public land, private land, and then just birding the roads,” Lentz said.

Between now and January 5, the groups in different areas will choose one of those days to count birds.

“We go out all day. We can even get up and go owling to look for nocturnal birds. And this is a great way to get a snapshot of what birds are where on any given day during the Christmas Bird Count season for Audubon.”

The tradition began more than 120 years ago and has become one of the best examples of citizen science in action.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Radio from 1998-2010.
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