Dear Audubon Member,

Photo by Monte Costa

I remember my first Audubon Christmas Bird Count, on a cold December day in Central Park. A leader from the New York City Chapter registered the 100 or so people who showed up, and divided us into groups assigned to sections of the park. Several of us were regular birders in the park, but most faces were new. I recognized the CEO of one of the largest investment firms in the world. Another was a local schoolteacher in the Bronx. Few noticed or cared that I was Audubon's president. It didn't matter who we were. We all stood in the same line to register, wanting to do our part to help.

Our count that day was uneventful, mostly recording the winter birds that congregate in Central Park, in their usual numbers. Later that day our counts were combined with other counts from around the city. Eventually they would be combined with all counts nationwide. In the most recent CBC, 50,000 people counted more than 6 million birds at nearly 2,000 locations across America.

What I did that day might seem insignificant in the grand scheme of protecting our global environment. In fact, I believe it represents the one thing that will save our planet—individual action.

The Christmas Bird Count is the longest continual wildlife-monitoring program in the world. I did my part that day, just like thousands of other volunteers had done every year for a century. My small contribution became important to science and conservation because of the collective power of individual action sustained year after year.

Internet technology now empowers volunteers—we call them "citizen scientists"—to monitor trends in bird populations more often and in more places than the historic one-day annual CBC. As a result, Audubon is establishing a national network of Important Bird Areas that will become monitoring sites and the focus of our conservation efforts on the ground. So far more than 1,600 IBAs have been identified; eventually there are expected to be about 5,000 of them. This national network is part of a growing global network of IBAs coordinated by our partner organization BirdLife International.

That's the power of birds to signal danger and to inspire action, and that's a big part of what makes Audubon so special. When Audubon scientists recorded a 90 percent decline in wading birds in the Everglades, they captured the nation's attention and launched the world's largest environmental restoration effort. When Rachel Carson needed a compelling metaphor in her landmark book Silent Spring to alert people to the health threat caused by the improper use of DDT and other toxic chemicals, she used birds. If DDT kills birds that sing in spring, she asked, will people be next?

But it's more than birds that makes Audubon special. For 100 years Auduboners have been motivated by some deeply held beliefs. We believe that we all share a responsibility to take care of this planet as our home, and that our health, safety, and future are threatened when people damage our environment. As daunting as each new threat appears, we know that just as people cause these problems, people can solve them.

All Audubon programs are grounded in this core belief: that every person can make a difference, and that the power of people acting together can meet any challenge. Nothing symbolizes this collective power better than Audubon Chapters. For 100 years they have been gathering as individual volunteers coming together in a shared commitment to improve their communities.

In addition to Chapters, our growing network of Audubon Centers provides another opportunity for people to come together in their communities to enjoy nature, to be inspired, and to learn what they can do to help. As we begin our second century, we face another daunting challenge. If Audubon is built on the power of every person to make a difference, we must do more to be inclusive. The face of America is changing. According to the 2000 census, there is no longer any majority ethnic or racial group in places like Southern California, Houston, Miami, or New York City.

The face of Audubon should reflect the face of America. That is why we are locating our newest Audubon Centers in diverse communities like East Los Angeles; Brooklyn; South San Antonio; South Seattle; Holly Springs, Mississippi; Brownsville, Texas; and the Waimea Valley in Hawaii. The members, volunteers, and staff coming into Audubon through these local Centers will eventually be the leaders of Audubon. They will make us stronger, and become the stewards of our planet for our next century.


is to conserve and restore
natural ecosystems, focusing
on birds, other wildlife, and
their habitats for the
benefit of humanity and the
earth's biological diversity

John Flicker
National Audubon Society

© 2004 National Audubon Society

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