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Christmas Bird Count Underway

winter, birds
(Image credit: Jolie B Studios/U.S. Department of the Interior)

The 113th annual Christmas Bird Count is now underway, with Audubon making it easier than ever for you, your family and friends to participate in this fun and rewarding holiday tradition.

The count, taking place from now through Jan. 5, is free for the first time. (It used to cost $5 to participate, in order to cover mailing and other processing.) It's also all digital, with participants able to see the results online.

Every day of my life is brightened by the presence of birds, the living descendants of dinosaurs. They are intelligent animals -- full of personality -- so it's entertaining to watch them go about their daily business, enjoying simple pleasures and interacting with each other. I've noticed that individual birds hang out with birds of different species, leading to what appear to be tightly knit bird buddy groups.

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Reliable, clean water sources are a must for any birder's backyard. Even when it's pouring rain, my area's resident birds still come to my bird baths, out of habit and knowing that they'll find fresh water. Bathing lowers bird stress, as it not only feels good to them, but it also helps smaller birds to get away faster from larger birds and other predators, since cleaning aids in feather maintenance.

Certain trees, shrubs, vines and flowers attract birds. You'll need to make adaptions for your particular area, but this North Carolina State University site offers some good suggestions.

Counting birds is also a perfect group activity for brisk winter walks and other outdoor explorations. Google "guided bird walks" for your area for suggestions. I went on one of these just the other day in Northern California and was amazed to learn about the number of species in a single, small region.

As Audubon shares, "Tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the Americas take part in an adventure that has become a family tradition among generations. Families and students, birders and scientists, armed with binoculars, bird guides and checklists go out on an annual mission - often before dawn. For over one hundred years, the desire to both make a difference and to experience the beauty of nature has driven dedicated people to leave the comfort of a warm house during the holiday season."

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Thinking of being out in the cold, down jackets seem to be all the rage this season. Did you know that many such jackets are now made with "vegan" high tech materials and not down? You can read about some of these relatively new materials here.

The bird count turns into a friendly competition between individuals and groups. I can remember going at it with incredible gusto as a kid, hoping to be the best birder in the U.S. (Never happened.) The count is also very helpful to bird specialists.

Audubon and other organizations use data collected in this longest-running wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations and to help guide conservation action.

Please check out this Audubon page to find a count near you and sign up to participate.

This story was provided by Discovery News.

Jennifer Viegas