14 January, 2015
Recently, a small group of birdwatchers spent three weeks around Mount Vernon, the home of the first president of the United States, George Washington. They were busy counting wild birds on Mount Vernon's wetlands, south of Washington, D.C. They began in the middle of December and worked until the beginning of January.
The birdwatchers were among 70,000 volunteers who collected information for the National Audubon Society, a U.S. conservation group. They counted birds in more than 2,400 areas in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean Sea and other parts of the Americas.
The Audubon Society's first "Christmas Bird Count" took place 115 years ago in 1900. At that time, a man named Frank Chapman suggested a new Christmas tradition -- that people count birds instead of shooting them around the holiday.
American Stuart Davis is a long-time birdwatcher and has even traveled to other countries in search of birds. He was excited about the birds he saw at Mount Vernon.
"They come in so many different shapes and sizes. Their feathers are so beautiful. They do remarkable things, like their acrobatic flying."
In the trees across the Potomac River, the small group of birdwatchers saw a bald eagle -- the national symbol of the United States. The bald eagle was once considered endangered, but its population has grown in recent years.
Harry Glasgow has taken part in the Christmas Bird Count for the past 10 years. This year, he was one of the volunteer birdwatchers at Mount Vernon.
"I think it's a tremendous use of a lot of unofficial talent around the nation to keep track of birds. Birds are one of the surest indicators -- or barometers -- of the health of the ecology."
Last year, the bird count recorded over 66 million birds of 2,403 different species.
Gary Langham is chief scientist with the National Audubon Society.
"The Audubon climate report says that half the birds in North America -- 314 out of 588 species -- are seriously threatened by climate change. The impacts sort of cut across all birds, all sizes, all kinds, all places."
Information from the bird counts has shown that birds are staying farther north during the winter months because of warmer weather. Birdwatcher Jaime Reidy has noted the difference close to Washington, in the state of Virginia.
"You get to see them at odd times of the year, a little earlier, staying a little later."
Gary Langham says other conditions are affecting bird populations.
"You can imagine the birds that live along the beach or along the rocky shore line as sea levels are rising around the world. That is impacting them, you know, doubly so."
David Yarnold is president of the Audubon Society. In his words, "Christmas Bird Count data is becoming important not only in documenting current climate change, but in predicting the future effects of climate change on North American bird populations. If we know what to expect, we can start taking actions now to do something about it."
I'm Kelly Jean Kelly.
This story was based on a report from VOA's Deborah Block and information from the National Audubon Society. Hai Do wrote it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
conservation – n. the protection of animals, plants and natural resources
indicator - n. a sign that shows the condition or existence of something
species - n. a group of related animals or plants that is smaller than a genus
impacting - v. having a strong and often bad effect
doubly - adv. much more than usual or previously; to a much higher degree than usual; twice as much
documenting - v. creating a record of something through writing, film or photography
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