Birders with the Atlanta Audubon Society peer at a bird high in a tree during the 2017 Intown Atlanta Christmas Bird Count. The Intown count each year covers Constitution Lakes park in DeKalb County where this team was looking for birds. CONTRIBUTED BY CHARLES SEABROOK

Christmas Bird Count season kicks off today

The holiday season is when our thoughts turn to … birds.

That’s true at least for hundreds of Georgia bird lovers like me who will take part in one or more of the nearly 30 Audubon Christmas Bird Counts (CBCs) that begin today and run through Jan. 5 across the state.

From the sweeping Marshes of Glynn on the coast to the rugged Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia’s mountains, groups of binocular-toting birders will be fanning out in specified 15-mile-diameter circles to count all the birds they see or hear during one day within their “count areas.”

CBCs mostly have been conducted in this basic way since they began on Christmas Day in 1900. At that time, ornithologist Frank Chapman, an officer in the nascent National Audubon Society, proposed counting birds instead of shooting them at Christmas. Back then, teams of hunters engaged in a popular tradition known as Christmas “side hunts,” in which teams vied to see which one could bring in the biggest pile of wild birds and animals for the day.

The CBCs quickly gained in popularity. Spurring it on was a growing public interest in conservation. Scientists also were becoming more concerned over declining bird populations due to unregulated hunting, habitat loss and other threats.

According to the Audubon Society, information from CBCs over the past century — combined with data from other surveys such as the Breeding Bird Survey in late spring — have helped researchers, wildlife agencies and others determine the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America.

Today, the data also are being used to help develop strategies to protect birds and their habitats, and help identify environmental issues that have implications for people as well.

For a lineup of Georgia’s CBCs this season, visit:

IN THE SKY: From David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer: The Geminid meteor shower is expected to reach a peak of 50 meteors per hour tonight. Best viewing: In the northeast sky after midnight. The moon will be last-quarter on Wednesday night. Only two planets are visible now: Venus is low in the west just after dark and sets two hours later; Mars is low in the east about two hours before dawn.

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