After nearly two years of internal discussions, budget modeling, head-scratching, and intense decision-making, two major changes will come to the Christmas Bird Count effective with the upcoming 113th Count that runs Dec. 14, 2012 to Jan. 5, 2013. First, the CBC will now be a free program. For the first time since 1955, Audubon will waive the $5 participant fee and replace it with a voluntary donation and sponsorship model. Second, to minimize the loss of income, our annual summary of CBC results, American Birds, will no longer be printed and mailed to every participant. Instead, Audubon will move to an online delivery of the CBC summary results with expanded features.
To help Audubon make these important decisions regarding the Christmas Bird Count program, we invited people involved with the count to participate in an online survey earlier this year. The results of the online survey were very enlightening and are summarized in the upcoming 112th CBC summary issue of American Birds that will be released in October—the last one to appear in print. The 130 pages of written comments underscored how passionately people feel about the CBC. Some people understand the fee and don’t mind paying it, but the main thrust of written comments was that the fee is a major obstacle to the program, and the strong message was that more people would be involved, more counts would be included in the CBC database, and more accurate effort data would be collected if the fee was dropped.
Also highly informative were comments regarding American Birds. While a few folks commented that they enjoyed the information it contains and enjoy reading at least parts of it each year, the primary sentiment expressed was that recipients do not value American Birds in its current format, that they do not read most of it. Many survey respondents felt that an interactive, online version of the magazine would better suit their needs—especially if the participation fee were dropped.
With the online delivery of American Birds via a new interactive web presence—including photos, summaries, and features—content can now be presented online as they are completed. While the integrity of the CBC is crucial to maintain for its bird trend data, it has become equally important for the ability to engage people in other citizen science projects. Toward that end Audubon will be expanding its Citizen Science projects, and the CBC will, of course, continue to be the cornerstone program.