Christmas has passed, but for Baton Rouge area birdwatchers, the real conclusion of the holiday season is Saturday, when the Baton Rouge Audubon Society hosts its Christmas Bird Count. The New Orleans Audubon Society held its Christmas Bird Count Dec. 22.

The National Audubon Society hosts Christmas Bird Counts across America during the holidays each year. On the day of the count, volunteers count birds in designated areas, tabulating the results and sending them to Audubon’s national headquarters. Over time, the results yield valuable clues about population trends among birds — a key indicator of ecological health for other creatures, including humans.

The first Christmas Bird Count was held on Christmas Day in 1900, when ornithologist Frank Chapman proposed the holiday activity of counting birds rather than shooting them. At that time, many sportsmen engaged in a Christmas Day tradition called a Side Hunt, in which teams of hunters would compete to see who could kill the biggest pile of furred and feathered creatures. The result wasn’t really sport but mass slaughter, and Chapman’s bird count was an enlightened alternative that eventually gained popularity.

We commend the area volunteers involved in this year’s count. Their work is an important part of preserving bird life in Louisiana — and throughout the country.