FORT HOOD — Bird-watchers and enthusiasts of all ages and skills are encouraged to participate in the longest-running community science program – the Audubon Society’s 122nd Christmas Bird Count.

The event started Dec. 14 and runs through Jan. 5. Volunteers in more than 20 countries across the western hemisphere participate in the annual event.

“It’s a way to get outside, explore Fort Hood and other nearby communities in a way you wouldn’t normally do, while also learning about local migratory species,” Dr. Amber Dankert, supervisor of Fort Hood’s Wildlife Management, said.

According to the Audubon Society, there are more than 2,600 count circles and more than 81,000 volunteers. In Texas, there are more than 110 count circles.

“Every Christmas Bird Count volunteer is an important part of this community science program,” Dankert said. “Last year, our biologists, volunteers and environmental staff counted 14,576 individual birds, totaling 127 different species, within an area spanning over 100,000 acres.”

The first Christmas Bird Count was on Christmas Day in 1900 and was organized by Frank Chapman, an ornithologist, who proposed a new holiday tradition a ‘Christmas Bird Census’ that would count birds during the holidays rather than hunt them. Some counts have been running every year since then.

This year, the Fort Hood Adaptive and Integrative Management program will host its sixth annual bird count on Dec. 15. Each count takes place in an established 15 mile diameter circle, and is organized by a count compiler.

“We are trying to spark an interest in the community,” Dankert said. “Soldiers and families wanting to participate don’t need to be expert birders. This event is a great learning experience for beginners, too.”

Volunteers meet in teams and look for birds in different quadrants of the circle, counting not only the species but the number of individual birds. The data collected is then submitted to the Audubon Society to help researchers, conservation biologists and environmental organizations study the long-term health and status of bird populations.

“It’s bigger than Fort Hood,” Dankert said. “Our data is combined with other data from across the U.S. and beyond to show trends … we are the boots on the ground in detecting historical changes.”

Birders of all skill sets are involved in the Christmas Bird Count. If you are a beginning birder, your compiler will pair you with an expert initially.

Dankert explained that if a birder’s home is within the boundaries of Fort Hood’s Christmas Bird Count circle, then there is an opportunity to still participate by making arrangements with the count compiler.

“If you don’t want to leave your home, but live within the count circle, then you can count the birds at your feeders,” Dankert said. “It a great way to get the family involved and start a new holiday tradition.”

For more information about the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count visit www.audubon.org/join-christmas-bird-count. The site also provides a map to explore local Christmas Bird Counts hosted not only by the Fort Hood Adaptive and Integrative Management program but the Twin Lakes Audubon Society and others throughout Central Texas and beyond.

To learn more the about local citizen science opportunities and the efforts of the AIM program, follow them at facebook.com/Fort.Hood.AIM.Team.