This Christmas tradition is for the birds!

Bird watchers all over the country are observing a century-old holiday tradition that combines the fun and challenge of birding with collecting valuable scientific data. The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is an annual program of the National Audubon Society, which produces information about the population status and trends in winter distribution of various birds.

In Alabama, birders from throughout the state are participating. Counting groups are usually formed during the fall, to allow time to register and be assigned a Bird Count circle. Groups may include beginners as well as experienced birdwatchers. Some biologists and park naturalists with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources join in the CBC every year.

Christmas Bird Count program volunteers work in count groups to complete a census of birds in a designated circle 15 miles in diameter for one 24-hour period. From December 14, 2003 through January 5, 2004, the volunteers will conduct nearly 2,000 counts, in count circles throughout all 50 states, every Canadian province, parts of Central and South America, Bermuda, the West Indies, and Pacific islands.

The primary objective of the Christmas Bird Count is to monitor the status and distribution of bird populations across the Western Hemisphere. The information collected is also vital for conservation. For example, local trends in bird populations can indicate habitat fragmentation or signal an immediate environmental threat, such as groundwater contamination or poisoning from improper use of pesticides.

Everyone who takes part in the Christmas Bird Count does it for love of birds and the excitement of friendly competition -- and with the knowledge that their efforts are making a difference for science and bird conservation. Find out how to get involved by visiting the Audubon website at 

As long as there are birds to be counted, the Christmas Bird Count will go on being the most popular, fun, and rewarding bird census the world over!