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Birding for the Holidays


It's the holiday season, which means it's time to check in with the annual Christmas Bird Count, something we do every year on SCIENCE FRIDAY, and every year, tens of thousands of bird enthusiasts around the world gather in fields, parks and even their own backyards, braving the winter elements to help put together a census of the bird population.

It's become a fun holiday tradition, but the Christmas Bird Count is also an important part of the National Audubon Society's conservation efforts. So which of our feathered friends can we expect to see this winter? Remember last year there was a heavy invasion of snowy owls last year. Are we going to see that again, or was there another species that may make a special appearance?

This is our latest Ask An Expert series. So you can tweet us @scifri, @-S-C-I-F-R-I, with your birding questions. We'll take all kinds of birding questions on Ask An Expert. And if you're taking part in the count, maybe you are out there, put your raincoat on at this time of the year, or snow if you're out in the middle, Midwest.

We want to know what you've seen. Our number is 1-800-989-8255, 1-800-989-TALK. Let me introduce my guests. Gary Langham is chief scientist at the National Audubon Society in Washington. He joins us from Washington. Welcome.

GARY LANGHAM: Hi, Ira, great to be here again.

FLATOW: Good to have you again. David Bonter is an ornithologist at Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology at Cornell University in Ithaca. He joins us from WXXI in Rochester. Welcome back, Dr. Bonter.

DAVID BONTER: Thanks for having me back again.

FLATOW: Before we get started with questions, I want to have a little quiz. We're going to play a little clip and see if our listeners can guess the bird. And give us a call, 1-800-989-8255, if you think you know what kind of bird this is.


FLATOW: Ooh, do you guys know what it is? Don't give it away, but do you know what it is? I'm sure you do.


BONTER: There's something in the background, too, that I think I can...


FLATOW: Gary, how long does the bird count run, and who typically takes part in it?

LANGHAM: So the - we're having another great year, breaking records in participation. It runs from the 14th of December until the fifth of January, and all sorts of people take part in this across the Western Hemisphere. In fact, actually Ira, this year participation is way up. We're not even halfway done, and we have more than 100 new circles and at least 2,500 new people this year. So that's terrific.

FLATOW: And if you're one of those new people who are out there, and you want to call in on your cell, you're listening, 1-800-989-8255 is our number. Tell us what you're seeing out there. And maybe if you're just a backyard, you know, you follow it in your backyard at your birdfeeder like I do, and you want to know, get some tips, call your friends, tell them to tune in because we'll be giving out tips also. Our number 1-800-989-8255. You can tweet us @scifri, @-S-C-I-F-R-I. We'll be back with Gary Langham and David Bonter after this break. Stay with us.


FLATOW: This is SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow from NPR.


FLATOW: This is SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow. We're talking this hour about the Audubon's Christmas Bird Count with our two bird experts: Gary Langham, who is chief scientist at the National Audubon Society; David Bonter is an ornithologist at Cornell University.

Before the break, we played a clip to see if anybody could guess the bird. We'll play it one more time and take our first guest call. Let's hear that.


FLATOW: All right, very refreshing sound. Let's go to the phones and go to Mark(ph) in Dearborn, Michigan. Hi Mark, have you got a guess?

MARK: How are you?

FLATOW: Hi there.

MARK: That was a cardinal (unintelligible).

FLATOW: A cardinal. I wish I had a bell to ring.


BONTER: Yeah, that was a northern cardinal. Did anyone hear what was singing in the background, too?

FLATOW: That's a tricky one.

MARK: (Unintelligible).

FLATOW: Thank you, Mark. We don't have a prize, so you'll just be winner.


FLATOW: What was in the background?

BONTER: I'm pretty sure I heard a blue-gray gnatcatcher there in the background just hissing away a little bit.

FLATOW: That would have been my second guess.


BONTER: But you won't be hearing either of those birds singing right now. It'll be a few more weeks, as the days get longer, before the birds start singing again.

FLATOW: Are we seeing anything unusual, any - more birds like the snowy owl from last year? Have we seen a flock of birds coming in?

LANGHAM: Yes, Ira, you remember last year was the snowy owl invasion. Well, we have new birds invading from the north this year. But this year they are the coniferous cone specialists. So we have an invasion of crossbills, redpolls, grosbeaks and the like.

FLATOW: When you say it's an invasion, could we actually see that in our home birdfeeders?

LANGHAM: Absolutely, and it's an interesting story. So in some ways it's the same as the owls that the food crop that they're relying on, in the owls' case it was lemmings, in this case it's the seed crops of the coniferous forests, they don't do well, and birds, say red crossbills from the Pacific Northwest, they're such good flyers that it makes sense for them in a bad year to fly all the way to Alleghany, Pennsylvania, the coast of Massachusetts, to Sacramento, California, and the like. It's just amazing that they can travel that easily.

FLATOW: David, other than the finches, are there any other bird species that you'll be keeping an eye on?

BONTER: Well, just one more finch I'd like to mention, the Pine Siskin, has moved in really big numbers out of the northern forests this winter, and we're seeing them in all of the lower 48 states, which is a pretty eruption year. Another species, though, not one of the finches, that we're keeping an eye on is called the Eurasian collared dove, and the name might be a pretty good clue that it doesn't belong here in North America.

It was introduced down in South Florida back in the 1980s, and it's made a really remarkable conquest of North America in the last decade, moving from Florida to Alaska, and is now becoming one of the more common feeder birds that many people see across the country.

FLATOW: Is this a consequence of global warming, where the seasons are changing a little bit or the climate for these birds?

BONTER: The dove example is basically an introduction of a novel species to a new place where it finds a welcoming niche. It does really well in highly modified human landscapes, and it's taking advance of that all across the country. And it'll be really interesting to see how this Eurasian collared dove interacts with our native dove species, like the mourning dove, it's about 10 percent bigger than the mourning dove, as it continues to move across the country and grow in population size.

FLATOW: Let's go to Midland, Texas. Hi, Slim(ph) is on the phone. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

SLIM: Yes hi, Ira, appreciate you taking my call. Yeah, I wish I could have gotten to redbird first. But no my question is how come Redbirds down here, cardinals as they say up north, have moved so far, like up into Canada? I mean, they used to just be down South. Now they seem like they're all over the place. Is it climate change?

FLATOW: Good question. Gentlemen?

LANGHAM: I'd say the typical answer - I'd be curious to hear David's response, too, is that it's a mixture of things. We're certainly getting much more mild winters, but climate change is showing in the wintertime that lots of - the center of ranges of birds are moving north. Upwards of 40 percent of the birds are moving north.

But there are also a lot of people feeding birds. So they're able to persist in inclement weather further north than they could if that supplemental feeding wasn't there.

FLATOW: And the bird count, is it all over the world or just in the Western Hemisphere, or where are the concentrations of folks?

LANGHAM: By and large it's in the United States and Canada, but we are expanding ever southwards. Last year was the first time we had a Cuba count. There's three going on right about now. So we can expand a lot more into Central and South America, and that will be very important for us to get a full picture for the full bird ranges in the winter.

FLATOW: We have a tweet coming in from Joe Walker(ph). He says: Here in Minnesota I've noticed what appears to be an increasing number of mallards, which are not migrating. Is this widespread, or is it increasing? Do you know of what he speaks?

LANGHAM: Yeah, a number of the water fowl, Canada geese are another really great example of that, a species that tends to not be migrating as far as it used to, and you end up with relatively large flocks of resident birds staying in northern states and in southern Canada throughout the wintertime, as long as there's some open water available. So yeah, that's definitely another trend that we're seeing, along with species like the cardinals and the tufted titmice and the Carolina wrens moving their ranges to the north.

FLATOW: Jennifer(ph) in Chesapeake, Virginia. Hi, welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

JENNIFER: Hi, thank you.

FLATOW: Go ahead.

JENNIFER: Oh, I just wanted to make a comment. For the last three years I've been hosting bluebirds in bluebird nests in my backyard. And it's just been a great thrill for my son, who's five, and I to watch the whole process. We feed our bluebirds mealworms, live mealworms every morning. And it's just been a great thrill.

FLATOW: Did you try to attract them? Were you shooting for - wrong choice of words, but were you trying to attract the bluebirds?

JENNIFER: No, actually I've just kind of been a bird enthusiast, and I saw them in my neighborhood. So I went to my local Wildbirds Unlimited store, no plug on them intended. But I did get a bluebird house, and sure enough, I've had like three or four, I think four nests built. And now I've got like six or seven bluebirds that frequent my backyard.

FLATOW: Well, I'd love to see some in my feeder. I'll have to - Gary, David, can you choose the kind of house that will attract certain birds?

BONTER: Absolutely. You can pick birdhouses that have the right width of hole and size that can encourage groups of birds. So if you got a really big one, and you had the right area, you might get a wood duck or whatnot. But let me also just congratulate her for doing that with her kids. It's so important to get outside, and in fact, Ira, I'd like to challenge everyone listening to get out during this holiday break, you know, when we're all home and sitting around.

Get outside with someone, with someone you care about, and connect to nature. It's so important, whether it's the CBC or putting up a birdhouse in the spring. It's just wonderful.

FLATOW: Now can - Jennifer, are you still there?


FLATOW: Is she important to the bird count? Is there a place that she should check in or log what she has seen in her backyard someplace?

BONTER: Well absolutely. If anyone is interested in joining the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, they can go to christmasbirdcount.org and look to see if there's still a circle ongoing. But, you know, Audubon and Cornell have year-round projects like eBird that they can also participate in at any time. And so I would encourage people to sign up for those citizen science projects.

In fact Audubon just yesterday launched a citizen science portal at audubon.org/citizenscience, where you can put in your email, and you'll hear about all the free engagements like that you can sign up for with your family.

FLATOW: Good luck, Jennifer.

JENNIFER: Thank you.

FLATOW: Thanks for calling, 1-800-989-8255. Cindy(ph) in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Hi Cindy.

CINDY: Hi, thanks for taking my call.

FLATOW: You're welcome.

CINDY: I have three Eastern blue jays that have visiting my feeder ever since fall, and I was wondering, I guess there's been blue jay sightings here in the last couple years, but I was wondering either from the Cornell or the Audubon expert what's going on with that number of population in the west and certainly around here.

BONTER: Yeah, we are actually seeing a bit of a range expansion of blue jays into the Pacific Northwest. We have a number of sights now as far west as Washington state where blue jays are showing up. So bird ranges are not static. They change all the time. And that's why it's important to have these large-scale monitoring programs and engaging the public to help us better understand what's going on with bird populations.

So projects like the Christmas Bird Count, Project FeederWatch, eBird are excellent ways for us to better understand the natural world, and anybody can contribute.

FLATOW: Thanks for calling.

CINDY: OK, thank you.

FLATOW: You're welcome, 1-800-989-8255. Tim in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Hi Tim.

TIM: Hey, how are you doing? Thanks for talking about the Christmas Bird Count on SCIENCE FRIDAY.

FLATOW: You're welcome.

TIM: I have a comment. You were talking about Eurasian Collared Doves a few minutes ago, and your guests might appreciate this. While we were owling last week, we found Eurasian Collared Dove remains beneath the roost of a great horned owl.


BONTER: Yes. Yes.

FLATOW: Now, what does that mean to the layman, to me? You guys are talking bird-geek talk, if I may put it that way. What is significant about that, Tim?

TIM: Well, the thing that was interesting to me was, you know, Eurasian Collared Dove is an exotic species that's really spreading rapidly across the country. And it's pretty cool to see that our Great Horned Owls are, you know, being predators on those birds, which was new to me, new information for me.

FLATOW: Are you a long-time birder?

TIM: Yes, I am.

FLATOW: Are you part of the Christmas Bird Count?

TIM: Sure. I lead people out every year.

FLATOW: All right. Thanks for calling.

TIM: I have about eight people with me, getting up at 4 in the morning to go owling.

FLATOW: Out there in Stillwater?

TIM: Out here in Stillwater, yep.


TIM: Yep. Yeah.

FLATOW: You got the long johns on.

TIM: It's great.

FLATOW: All right, thanks. Thanks for calling, Tim.

TIM: All right. Thank you.

FLATOW: Good luck. Have a happy holiday.


FLATOW: That significant to you, guys, Gary and David?

LANGHAM: Well, I think it's really interesting. I'd be curious to know how he identified it. Definitively, it would have been a good one to follow up. I should have asked.

FLATOW: Yeah. Well, he's...

LANGHAM: It's interesting.

FLATOW: ...part of the bird count. Maybe he'll report it.


BONTER: Absolutely.

FLATOW: Let's go to Mark in Kansas City, Kansas. Hi, Mark.

MARK: Hey. How are you doing, guys?

FLATOW: Hi, there.

MARK: This show was advertised on Missouri and Kansas LISTSERV today. So, hopefully, you've got a lot of birders listening today. I typically participate in four to five Christmas counts in the Kansas area, and birders get excited here when a count circle gets 100-plus, and/or they add a new species to the count. And in one day last weekend, there were three circles in Kansas that had over 100 species. So we're all excited.


MARK: We also had (unintelligible)...

LANGHAM: It's pretty exciting when species show up in unexpected places, too.


MARK: Oh, yeah. We also had an early eruption of Red-breasted Nuthatches in the state.


LANGHAM: Yeah. Red-breasted Nuthatches came south of the boreal forest in late August this year, which was pretty early. So the food availability up in the northern forest must be pretty poor this year.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. All right. 1-800-989-8255. Why are we seeing so many birds coming south, you know, from those areas in the Arctic? That was a tweet that just came in.

BONTER: So the answer to that is, as I was alluding to a little bit earlier, that these seed-eating birds tend to be specialized on one or a few kinds of pine cones. And so when that tree is having a bad year, they'll come south. And what's interesting is it happens every, you know, three to six years for each species that sometimes, they'll just naturally co-occur. So I think it was in '97, '98, we had lots of species doing it.

LANGHAM: And this year, the Red Crossbills are particularly numerous. The idea is it's the so-called type 3 that is coming out of the Pacific Northwest focused on the western hemlocks.

FLATOW: Gary, what's so - one of the most interesting birds you've seen doing the Christmas bird count?

LANGHAM: Just a year or two ago, when I was out with my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, which was really fun by itself, we found a Sage Thrasher in - close to Sacramento, California, where it wasn't supposed to be. And I think the homeowners that owned - that were in the meadows near it where it was were surprised to see that dozens of birders that came to get that bird on their county list.

FLATOW: Wow. So it was just standing there in the garage or the driveway or something?

LANGHAM: Yes, just so sitting there in the driveway, just hanging out. So it wasn't supposed to be there.

FLATOW: What do you do when you see that? Do you pull out the book and make sure that it's right? Do you go, wow, you jump up and down? What happens when you see something like that?

LANGHAM: Yeah. First, you jump up and down, and then you double check...

BONTER: You take a photo.

LANGHAM: ...and then you document it, if you can. And then you get confirmation. You want other people to come and see it and share in the fun.

FLATOW: Let's go to Dan in Coopersburg, Pennsylvania. Hi, Dan.

DAN: Hey. Thanks for taking my call.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

DAN: Similar to the, I think, your first caller, I've been raising bluebirds, actually, for about - not raising. I've been hosting bluebirds for about 17 years on my back deck. Every single year, they will have a brood in one box. And then when they're done, they'll move over to the next box and have another brood. If anything happens to that second brood, if it's early enough, they'll actually have a third brood, and I believe it's all the same couple. But my question is, this time of year, I see seven, eight, sometimes more - typically, five or six, though - but sometimes seven, eight bluebirds coming and checking up the (technical difficulties) for the springtime. And I'm wondering, is it - do you think that they would be the same birds? Or would they be the children or the offspring of those birds (unintelligible)? And how long do they live?

FLATOW: This is SCIENCE FRIDAY, from NPR. Well, what about the answer to that? Do they check out on new real estate, the same birds or the...

BONTER: Bluebirds do tend to form small, winter-foraging flocks. So they'll move around in groups of five to 10 birds. And they do tend to be fairly resident, as long as there are enough resources there in the form of fruit. On fruiting shrubs, they can stay even in cold places all winter long, and they'll continue to check out the boxes and sometimes even roost in the boxes at night.

FLATOW: I swore last year, when we lost the leaves - well, not this year, but last year -that I saw this - the tree must have been 200 feet high, but at the top, looked like - I would only describe it as a turkey vulture. Would they - because there was this giant vulture-looking-like bird, you know, in Connecticut where I live. I couldn't believe it could be it. Could that have been it? Because I couldn't think of anything else it could have been. Gentlemen?

BONTER: Yeah. Turkey vultures are certainly found in Connecticut, probably year-round. A few hearty, turkey vultures could over-winter in the state of the Connecticut. And there's another vulture called the black vulture, which you're just about at the northern extent of the range for that species. But that's another possibility.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. Let me go to - speaking of turkeys, let me go to this call quickly - Ed in Putnam Valley, New York. Hi, Ed.

ED: Hi. You're talking about turkey vultures. I'm talking about turkeys.

FLATOW: Well, go ahead.

ED: Real turkeys.

FLATOW: Go ahead. Talk about them.

ED: I have - in October, I have, almost inevitably, anywhere from 12 to 25 turkeys running around my yard, and they sleep in the trees in the back. The trees are about 30, 40 feet up, OK, which is kind of fascinating. They sleep, and when they - in the morning, when the sun comes up, they face the sunrise. And if it's a cloudy day, they come down early. If it's a sunny day, if it's going to be a good sunrise, they stay a little longer in the trees. I think it's the most fascinating thing I've ever seen.

FLATOW: Wow. A flock of turkeys. Yeah.

LANGHAM: It often surprises people that turkeys can fly, the wild turkeys. And the other interesting point about that that the listeners probably don't know is because turkeys have become much more common - just like the caller is relaying - and have been introduced in places like California, where, you know, they can be considered a nuisance, they're actually a conservation success story. In the 1930s, they were endangered, going extinct. And groups like Audubon, Christmas Bird Count and agencies banded together, and, you know, that's a modern day success story.

FLATOW: All right. We're going to talk - almost our national bird. We're going - if it were up to Ben Franklin. We're going to come back and talk more, lots more about the Christmas Bird Count with Gary Langham and David Bonter. 1-800-989-8255. Call in about anything you want to know about birds. Birds schmooze(ph) news this hour on SCIENCE FRIDAY.


FLATOW: I'm Ira Flatow. This is SCIENCE FRIDAY, from NPR.


FLATOW: This is SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow. We're talking this hour about the Christmas Bird Count and winter birding tips with my guests, Gary Langham, chief scientist at the National Audubon Society, David Bonter, an ornithologist at Cornell University. Our number: 1-800-989-8255. David, tell us about the projects you have going, the FeedWatch, FeederWatch, Project FeederWatch. What is that about?

BONTER: Yeah. Project FeederWatch is another one of these large-scale, citizen-science programs that engages the public to help us better understand what's going on with the natural world. And we're in our 26th season of FeederWatch. And it engages people to watch what's going on at their own backyard birdfeeders, follow a pretty simple protocol for counting the birds that are coming to their feeders, and sending that information to us. And it runs from November to April each winter.

And we have about 18,000 folks all across the U.S. and Canada helping us to really grasp what's going on with bird populations out there. And it's another one of those programs that - like the Christmas Bird Count - that anybody can get involved with. So I encourage folks to go to FeederWatch.org and learn more about that program.

FLATOW: Maybe that will help Susanna in Westfield, New Jersey. Hi, Susanna. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

SUSANNA: Hi, there. My son is 11 years old, and he is a very enthusiastic birder. We actually plan family trips so that he gets some birding in wherever we go in the country or in the world. And he has yet to meet a single child who's into birding the way he is. He wants to go to Cornell to study ornithology when he goes to college.

BONTER: Great.

SUSANNA: And I'm wondering: How can we get and to find other kids who love birds as much as he does?

BONTER: Yeah, that's a challenge these days. A lot of the birding clubs out there tend to be, you know, more older folks, not a whole lot of kids hanging out in the bird clubs. But we do have a program called the Young Birders Event at Cornell University, at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology each year, where we bring in some of these really keen, young birders from across the country to visit the lab and learn about all the work that we do, all the research we do there at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. And many of those students end up applying to and coming to Cornell and getting involved in research right out of high school.

SUSANNA: That's fantastic. When does that take place, and how can I find out about it? Because my father-in-law went to Cornell. So it would be easy to persuade the family to make a big trip.

BONTER: I encourage you to go to the website, the lab's website at Cornell.birds.edu. And you'll find the information on the Young Birders Event there.

FLATOW: Susanna, have you tried the - looking around the Internet for - interests for your son, maybe online if he can't find any...

SUSANNA: We did find - I did find, online, a website for something like a Young Birders club, or something like that. And it seems to be sort out-of-date. It had information from several months ago. It seemed to possibly have an event sometime January, but they hadn't set a date. So it didn't seem to be a particularly active organization. And I have not found anything else in our area.

FLATOW: Well, you know, there's a group called Meetups. I think Yahoo runs it. And you can put your own group together. Anything you'd like to do at all, and create your own Meetups. You might try - maybe he can create his own group of Meetup - find people. I don't know. Just thinking out loud.

BONTER: The other thing...

SUSANNA: That's not...

BONTER: The other thing you could...

SUSANNA: That's not a bad idea, but I guess, as a parent, I would have to...


SUSANNA: ...manage that. I don't want it to be...

FLATOW: Yes, I understand.

SUSANNA: ...attracting the wrong people.

LANGHAM: I'd also encourage you to look at your local Audubon chapter, if you haven't already. Sometimes they have very active youth groups. Sometimes not, but it's worth checking. There's 467 chapters around the U.S.

SUSANNA: OK. We'll do that.

FLATOW: Thanks a lot, and have a happy holiday.

SUSANNA: Thanks. Bye-bye.

FLATOW: Mark Lutney(ph) writes: Just moved from North Carolina to Connecticut. What should I put out to feed birds during winter months in New Haven? Let me expand that to say: Does it matter what kind of food you put out for the birds to what you will attract?

BONTER: Absolutely. The best all-around attractant for birds - and here in North America - is Black Oil Sunflower Seed. That will attract the widest diversity of species to your backyard, pretty much no matter where you are. A lot of folks also put out fine-cracked corn or white millet and some of the smaller seeds that sparrows and juncos and doves really prefer. But if you only have one seed to offer, I would definitely say Black Oil Sunflower is the way to go.

FLATOW: All right. Let's go to Andy in Washington, Iowa. Hi, Andy. Andy?

ANDY: Hi, guys. Great topic today.

FLATOW: Thank you. Go ahead.

ANDY: Hey, I just wanted to report on - we have Eurasian Collared Doves in Washington, Iowa. So you can put a little thumbtack on your map. But more importantly, I have a question about Ivory-billed Woodpeckers. Is anyone ever going to put one of those on their Christmas list? What's the latest news on those? And I'll hang out and listen to the answer.


ANDY: Thank you.

FLATOW: Thank you. You're welcome. Yeah. Anybody spotted one yet?

BONTER: Well, there's hasn't been much news on that front, unfortunately, in several years now. The folks at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology undertook an exhaustive search with a bunch of partners over the last five or six years of all the old humps over the ivory-billed. And unfortunately, no solid evidence has turned up in the last few years. But we still hold out a little bit of hope. It really is a sad story, a species that we knew was going extinct, and nobody did anything about it. And I'd like to think these days, we would act very differently than we did in the past.

FLATOW: Let's go to RJ(ph) in Salinas, California. Hi, RJ.

RJ: Hey. Thank you for taking my call. I just wanted to comment. I've been doing CBC since my early teens, so over 25 years now. And one of the real joys of doing Christmas bird counts is when you do the same area over and over again, the same piece of - small piece of territory. You get to know that territory extremely well. And it's almost like living in a neighborhood where you grew up in and seeing those changes that happen in it. But you also get to know, you know, that little patch of trees is perfect for red-breasted nuthatches and that little area is where you're going to get your common yellowthroats. And you really get to - it's a familiarity that is just fantastic.

And one of my favorite parts about doing CBCs is going to these areas year after year after year. And I'm actually really fortunate I get to do, I think, you know, (unintelligible) two of the most beautiful CBCs in the area. It's like it's an even big (unintelligible) and (unintelligible) and the Pinnacles Christmas Bird Counts. Both of which have condors and golden eagles and some of the amazing wildlife and a beautiful scenery.

FLATOW: Sounds like a lot of fun.

LANGHAM: Yes. Thank you.

RJ: It's an amazing area. But that - I just want to kind of throw it out there about that being the joys of the CBCs, doing those same areas year after year after year.

FLATOW: Interesting. Yeah.

RJ: I mean, the thing most people don't really think about.

LANGHAM: Well, thank you for your dedication. It's folks like you that really make the Christmas bird count work, and having that local knowledge is so critical. And the other thing I just want to point out is that, you know, as the caller knows, it's more than just about bird watching and - which is part of the fun, right? See how many birds you can see, and someone had mentioned a list earlier. But it's about getting a handle on the trends of birds across the country in winter so that we know - so we can avoid the next ivory-billed woodpecker well before it gets to the point of trying to find the last bird.

FLATOW: How did it go extinct? What - what's the story on that?

LANGHAM: David, do you want to comment on that?

BONTER: Well, basically, it was habitat loss and combined with hunting. Back in the 19-teens, the 1920s when the species was dwindling, it was still quite popular then to have a specimen of a rare bird in your collection. So the last few individuals were hunted out on purpose. But it was a specie that really dependent upon massive, massive trees and bottomland forests. And most of those trees were cut down as development marched across the country.

FLATOW: Gentlemen, I want to thank you for taking time to be with us today.

LANGHAM: Thank you, Ira.

FLATOW: And happy holidays to you.

BONTER: My pleasure.

FLATOW: Gary Langham, chief scientist at National Audubon Society in Washington. David Bonter, ornithologist at Cornell Lab of Ornithology at Cornell in Ithaca. Have a good weekend. We'll have you back next year.

LANGHAM: You too. All right. See you then. Happy New Year. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.