Today marks the beginning of the 119th Christmas Bird Count under the National Audubon Society — the world's longest-running wildlife census.

Frank Chapman, a pioneering ornithologist, began the count in Englewood, N.J., in 1900 as a substitute for heavy Christmastime bird shooting. For the first count, 25 reports were filed by 27 participants. This year, tens of thousands of observers will take part in more than 1,900 counts nationally. The count is unquestionably the world's greatest cooperative survey of wildlife and has steadily grown in popularity and importance. The mass of data keeps track of population increases or decreases of various species, helps in the study of life cycles and adds to the knowledge of avian migratory habits.

There will be about 80 counts across Minnesota, each done in a 15-mile diameter, between now and Jan. 5. Minnesota River Valley Audubon Club sponsors a count in Bloomington. Ney Nature Center organizes in Henderson. There will be counts for Excelsior, Red Wing, Northfield/Faribault, Winona, Mankato, Duluth and Bemidji to name a few. For more summaries or information on taking part, check the Minnesota Ornithologist Union's website at

Jim Gilbert taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.