110 years and counting: Audbon prepares for 2009 Christmas bird count in New Mexico

New Mexico — The longest running Citizen Science survey in the world, Audubon’s annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) starts today throughout North America, including 35 cities and towns around New Mexico. Thousands of volunteers will add a new layer to over a century of bird population information as they tally bird numbers through January 5, 2010.

Following on the heels of the international climate change conference in Copenhagen and a formal declaration by the Obama administration that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions pose a danger to the public’s health and welfare, this year’s Christmas Bird Count comes at a critical time in the debate about how best to address climate change.

“As many birders here in New Mexico and across the country have witnessed first-hand, climate change is having real and troubling impacts on bird populations across North America,” stated Karyn Stockdale, Executive Director of Audubon New Mexico. “With the U.S. Senate scheduled to consider a comprehensive climate and energy bill after the holidays, and the Obama administration poised to take action if Congress fails to act, it is our hope that by spring of the new year we will see meaningful legislation that will reduce pollution, revitalize our economy and protect the birds and other wildlife which we so admire.”

Scientists rely on the trend data from the CBC to better understand how birds and the environment are faring in New Mexico and around the country, including effects from climate change. Audubon scientists recently analyzed 40 years of CBC data, and found powerful evidence that climate change is having a serious impact on natural systems. Released earlier in 2009 and compiled into the National Audubon Society’s Birds and Climate Change Report, Audubon documents that northward movement was detected among species of every type, including more than 70 percent of highly adaptable forest and feeder birds.

In New Mexico, many birds that winter in the state are declining in numbers and analysis shows that their range is retracting north. Additionally, New Mexico is now seeing birds that were never before seen in the state or that weren’t common as birds move northward from the south. For instance, twenty years ago it was unheard of to see the Common Yellowthroat wintering in New Mexico, but now these birds winter regularly in Las Cruces and sometimes up the Rio Grande corridor towards Albuquerque. Additionally, the Pygmy Nuthatch, found in New Mexico’s forests, has moved 265 miles north with a 90% decline in the population in the state with uncertainty about its general continental population.

In addition to volunteer CBCs that reveal bird trends and legislation to address climate change, protection of New Mexico’s wildlife corridors provides solutions to protect New Mexico’s natural wildlife heritage. Governor Richardson joined Governor Ritter from Colorado in announcing earlier this month that New Mexico and Colorado are teaming up on a new initiative to indentify and protect key wildlife travel and migration corridors between the two states.

While New Mexico is still one of the least densely populated U.S. states, increasing development has begun to put pressure on some of the areas most critical to wildlife – the corridors they use to travel between mountain ranges and along rivers and streams. Mountain lions, bears, elk, deer, antelope all rely on these wildlife corridors for safe passage; and they are important for many species of birds as well, including the Sandhill Crane.

“Not only is the CBC an important tool for documenting birds and changing conditions around New Mexico, it provides an opportunity for our communities to connect with nature and enjoy our beautiful state,” added Karyn Stockdale. “We hope that together we can share more success stories for birds as a result of new climate policies and other conservation efforts like the state’s wildlife corridors initiative.”

To learn how to identify birds, participate in the CBC, and find local CBC Leader Contacts, see http://nm.audubon.org

Now in its second century, Audubon connects people with birds, nature and the environment that supports us all. Our national network of community-based nature centers, chapters, scientific, education, and advocacy programs engages millions of people from all walks of life in conservation action to protect and restore the natural world. For more information on Audubon in New Mexico, see http://nm.audubon.org