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Science

Counting Birds for Christmas

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Molly Samuel/KQED

Alan Hopkins, David Anderson and Martha Wessitsh count birds on Ocean Beach.

Every year, hundreds of people around the Bay Area willingly endure the cold and rain to watch for birds. It's for the annual Christmas Bird Count, organized by the National Audubon Society.

The Christmas Bird Count was established in 1900, a response to a Christmas tradition of hunting birds. Now scientists use this long-term data to track which birds are doing well, and which are facing challenges from habitat loss or climate change.

Six volunteers with the Golden Gate Audubon Society gathered at San Francisco's Ocean Beach as the sun came up on the day after Christmas, to count every bird -- down to the last pigeon -- in their assigned section of the beach.

Alan Hopkins, the leader of the group, has been participating in these counts for decades.

He began counting at 5 am, searching for owls. "It's always sort of fun to walk around in the dark in the park," he laughed. "You have to be something of a masochist to do this."

This group, in charge of western Golden Gate Park, planned to meet up with the rest of the San Francisco groups later that day to tally all the birds they saw, and to figure out who gets bragging rights.

"Somebody always wants to find the best bird," Hopkins said. "There's definitely a friendly competition going on the whole time."

Oakland's count was two weeks ago. Participants there counted a preliminary 177 species -- about average for Oakland. Other counts are still coming up, including two in the South Bay.

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