Watch the birdie!

The longest running citizen science survey in the world, Audubon’s annual Christmas Bird Count takes place from December 14, 2010 to January 5, 2011. Tens of thousands of volunteers throughout North America will brave winter weather to add to data that is already over a century old. Last year’s count broke records. Some 60,753 people tallied 2,319 species and 55,951,707 birds. Counts took place in all 50 U.S. states, all Canadian provinces, plus several Central and South American countries, Guam, Mariana Islands, Bermuda, Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

Scientists rely on the remarkable Christmas Bird Count to better understand how birds and the environment are faring – and what needs to be done to protect them. Data analysis also reveals the dramatic impact climate change is having on birds across the continent.

Coincidentally, on December 7, 2010, a copy of Birds of America by John James Audubon (pictured right) became the most expensive book ever sold when it went under the hammer at Sotheby’s for £7.3m. The auction was a rare chance to own one of the best preserved editions of the 19th century masterpiece, with its 435 hand-coloured illustrations.

Birds of America contains paintings and scientific descriptions of a wide variety of birds of the United States. It was first published as a series between 1827 and 1838 in Edinburgh and London.

The work consists of hand-coloured, life-size prints made from engraved plates measuring around 39 by 26 inches (99 by 66 cm). It includes images of six now extinct birds: Carolina Parakeet, Passenger Pigeon, Labrador Duck, Great Auk, Esquimaux Curlew, and Pinnated Grouse.

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