One of the many wonderful things that we are grateful for in the west is our abundance of wild open space. The arid landscape found in New Mexico consists of high plains, Chihuahuan Deserts, mountains, plateaus and beloved rivers like the mighty Rio Grande and the Gila. Lucky for us over one third of the state is public land, which allows for this diversity of ecotypes to be available for all to explore and – if you are interested in conservation – study. Like the term public lands, “citizen science” has historically galvanized the average person to take action outdoors. It hopes to empower neighbors and friends to cast aside anxieties about lack of formal training and collect and analyze data for the benefit of birds, wildlife, and communities. Public participation in scientific research or “citizen science” has been a critical pillar of Audubon’s conservation mission for decades. It was used to characterize pioneering initiatives like the Christmas Bird Count, the longest-running wildlife census in the hemisphere that continues to shape and inform our approach to conservation, providing vital information about bird populations and trends, in addition to data that alerts us to environmental threats not only to birds but to the larger ecosystems we all depend on. This country is vast and there are not enough environmental professionals to survey every riparian zone or count every bird, but having public support and additional eyes on the ground expands what is possible in a world where harmony with wild places and things is becoming increasingly uncommon.
Audubon’s ability to address how to best protect birds and all they are connected to increases with the help of great volunteers and community leaders. However, we recognize that the traditional conservation movement has not always been open and accepting of all people so we work extra hard to eliminate barriers to accesses and to be inclusive of all experiences – especially those who have been historically misrepresented. Audubon New Mexico’s growth includes learning from our past and moving forward to a brighter future. The word “citizen” is associated with the legal status of a person in the United States. This does not fully encompass all of those who work with Central New Mexico Audubon Society to count blue bird response to climate changes, Audubon New Mexico’s work with pueblos on freshwater issues, or international travelers who visit the Randall Davey Audubon Center trails before sunrise to log a rare species in eBird. The term we prefer, “Community Science”, accommodates the increasing number of volunteers and activists under the Audubon wing and showcases the importance of local stewardship in communities around the world.
This May, Audubon New Mexico invites you head outside to a nearby public land and participate in our latest Community Science endeavor – The Western Waters Bird Count. The Western Rivers Bird Count is a great way for people of all ages and backgrounds to connect with nature. Participation is free. A map (linked and below) and step-by-step guide show how to find priority locations and what the protocol is for counting birds. Participants can count any time during May and June. Each bird count will last from five to 60 minutes and cover 1 kilometer or less. Birders can than submit their checklists to eBird.org or on the eBird app.
You do not have to be a trained scientist or a citizen to help birds and the environment. See you outside!