I've been a sporadic birdwatcher -- or "birder," as they say -- ever since I was a teenager. But my interest in the hobby was recently piqued when I read a tremendously funny and informative book about birding by Luke Dempsey, titled A Supremely Bad Idea: Three Mad Birders and Their Quest to See It All. Among other fascinating observations and factoids about birds and birders, Dempsey points out that an inordinate number of avid birdwatchers have "bird names" themselves, including John Flicker, President of the National Audubon Society. Coincidence or, perhaps in Flicker's case, a job requirement -- you decide.
Taking it one step further, as I've spent more time hanging out with serious birders this past year, I've noticed that many of them have physical characteristics similar to those of their favorite bird species. For example, my birding friend Ted is wild for wood ducks, and he has a shock of jet black hair that gives him a strikingly similar profile to one. On the other end of the spectrum, Brad is a self-proclaimed bald eagle junky. And yes, you guessed it, he has a shiny chrome dome himself to prove it. Then there's Susan, a warbler fanatic, and you'd know it from half a mile away if you ever heard her laugh.
The fact is I'm now more a watcher of birders, than of actual birds. And I expect the "birder-watching" -- not to mention the bird watching -- to be in full zenith next week when the 110th Audubon Christmas Bird Count ("CBC") kicks off.
This year's CBC runs from December 14, 2009 through January 5, 2010. Every year, tens of thousands of volunteers (aka "citizen scientists") throughout the U.S., Canada and 19 other countries in the Western Hemisphere break out their binoculars to compile a comprehensive census of bird populations during specified 24-hour periods. Volunteers are organized into groups -- or "field parties" -- to conduct counts in predetermined 15-mile diameter circles. Other volunteers may have the option of counting birds at their own backyard bird feeders, depending on where they live.
Best of all, you don't need to be an experienced birdwatcher to participate, since coordinators pair experienced birders with those less experienced when assembling field parties. It's a great family experience, since kids can participate too. There's a modest $5 fee (per field participant, per count), but people 18 and under can participate for free, as can backyard "feeder counters." Check out Audubon's website for schedules, registration and other information.
Having participated last year, I know firsthand that this is not only a fun and frugal way to get out and enjoy Mother Nature during this special time of year, but Audubon's annual CBC is terrifically important to protecting both bird populations and the environment as a whole. A la' "canaries in the coal mine," changes in bird populations can be an important indicator of even greater environmental problems on the horizon.
I know you'll have a blast, and learn a lot, if you participate in the 110th Audubon Christmas Bird Count. And it won't surprise me in the least if you also happen to spot, say, a redheaded birder who's really into cardinals.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.