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Christmas bird counts taking flight

Cities and towns across Alberta have begun the 120th annual Christmas Bird Count, which takes place every year between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5. Each local area plans its own bird count and provides data to the National Audubon Society (NAS).

“The Christmas Bird Count is a great example of how everyday Albertans can play an important role in wildlife conservation," said Minister of Alberta Environment and Parks Jason Nixon, in a statement.

According to a press release from Environment and Parks, the Christmas Bird Count is organized by volunteer groups at the local level. Thousands of volunteers participate each year, creating one of the world’s largest sets of wildlife survey data.

Volunteers comb the surrounding forests, parks, backyards and alleys for any sign of bird life, and the count continues all day, with teams out at night listening for nocturnal birds, such as the great horned owl – Alberta’s provincial bird.

The results of the "citizen science" initiative play an important role in protecting bird species year-round, according to Environment and Parks. Wildlife biologists use the data to assess bird population trends and inform strategies to protect birds and their habitat. 

"The Christmas Bird Count is a fun outdoor activity for the whole family to learn about birds and become active participants in wildlife conservation," the release states. "Although many birds migrate to warmer climates in the winter, many birds stick around all year long. Although we are all familiar with the common winter species, such as chickadees, house finches, magpies and blue jays, the Christmas Bird Count uncovers a few more unusual winter gems."

Last year, there were 59 counts held across Alberta. The count was particularly successful in Calgary, where volunteers recorded 73 bird species – 10 more than the previous year. Lethbridge also had a successful count, according to the release, boasting the highest number of Canada geese for a bird count circle in Canada, at 29,459.

While no count is taking place in Airdrie this year, three counts are being held in Rocky View County, including one in Cochrane and area, one in Bottrel, Water Valley and Dog Pound, and one in Chestermere/east Rocky View County. For a map of where counts are being held, visit birdscanada.org

For more information on the Christmas Bird Count and NAS, visit audubon.org

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