By Stephanie Bearce
Today marks the end of the 121st annual Christmas Bird Count. It’s an event that started in 1920 when Audubon Society officer, Frank Chapman offered an alternative to the annual Christmas hunt. Instead of holiday hunters competing to see who could shoot the most birds, Chapman suggested a national bird census.
Today thousands of citizen scientists across the Western Hemisphere participate in the count that starts on December 14 and ends on January 5. The Christmas count has informed conservation programs for generations and provides an invaluable historic record of bird species.
It’s such an amazing event that Ninja author Lisa Amstutz, knew it would be perfect material for a book. Thus, was born FINDING A DOVE FOR GRAMPS, a charming story about a boy participating in the Christmas bird count and his quest to spy Gramps’ favorite bird.
I caught up with Lisa and asked her a few questions about taking a famous even and turning it into a book.
I asked her how she came to know about the event and if she had participated.
Lisa: The book was inspired by a bird count I accompanied my father on as a child. I've since participated in several other bird counts, and I always learn something new. For those just starting out, the Great Backyard Bird Count is a good way to ease in - it can be done right in your own backyard. This event takes place in February each year (see https://www.birdcount.org/). Project Feederwatch is another great option that runs from November to April (https://feederwatch.org/). These citizen science projects collect data that is very useful to scientists who study bird populations.
Q. Are you a Birder?
Lisa: Yes! I love watching birds, identifying them, and keeping track of the species I see each year. But I'm not nearly as good at it as I'd like. We hang out several types of feeders to attract birds to our yard and look for them on hikes. One of my favorite places to visit is a nearby nature center where visitors can hand-feed titmice and chickadees. There's something awe-inspiring about having a wild bird perch on your finger!
Q. As a scientist, could you explain why you think birds are important?
Lisa: Birds are an important part of the ecosystem. Larger animals rely on them for food. Birds in turn feed on insects, rodents, snakes, and other small animals. If birds disappeared, these animal populations would explode, destroying crops and affecting animal and human health. Some birds also play a role in pollinating plants and dispersing seeds.
Q. What is your favorite local bird? (Lisa lives in Ohio)
Lisa: Wow, that's a tough question! Not sure I can pick just one. I do love the mourning doves found in the book, and the cardinals and chickadees that come to my feeder always make me smile. But it's also exciting to spot a less common bird, like a bald eagle, an indigo bunting, or a bobwhite. If any of you reading this would like to share in the comments, I'd love to hear what your favorite birds are!
FINDING A DOVE FOR GRAMPS is a great example of how to take an annual event and use it to create a successful manuscript. Her experience enriched the story and caught the eye of an editor.
What events are you involved in that might make a great book?
Here are a few celebrations to help spark the writing process.
You can find more at https://www.calendarr.com/united-states/observances-2021/
January 2 - National Science Fiction Day
January 4 - World Braille Day
January 11 - National Milk Day
January 29 - National Puzzle Day
February 3 – Feed the Birds Day
February 11 – National Inventors’ Day
February 15 – Daisy Gatson Bates Day
February 21 – International Day of Forests
March 4 – National Grammar Day
March 15 – National Napping Day
March 21- World Poetry Day
March 23 – National Puppy Day
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