Bird Brains Gather for Christmas Count

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The annual Christmas Bird Count continues this week. The 112th for-the-birds affair beckons tens of thousands of volunteers across the continent to explore some nature and count the birds. And it's not just for fun. The National Audubon Society uses the data collected in the wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations and to help guide conservation efforts.

The project started more than a century ago to counter the tradition of shooting birds around Christmastime. It has evolved into the longest-running citizen science project in the world. Volunteers are asked to note all the birds they see in a specified 15-mile-wide radius and submit the data to Audubon. This year's Boise bird count was held on Dec. 17.

A year ago, bird watchers in 26 Idaho communities submitted data. In Boise, 27 participants clocked a total of 68 hours to report 85 species, which included more than 8,000 Canadian geese, 1,750 mallards, 1,236 California quail, 1,295 mourning doves, 3,486 European starlings and 1,595 house sparrows. The count also included some rare sightings of a Western Meadowlark, a yellow-throated warbler, an Anna's hummingbird, five horned owls, nine bald eagles and a snow goose.

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