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Start a new family tradition with the Christmas Bird Count!

Around this time of year, many of us take part in traditions that bring us closer together and signal the start of the holiday season. Whether these traditions are unique to your family, workplace, community, or county, they have a way of bringing cheer and making this time of year special. Maybe this holiday season is the right time to add a new tradition to your list! The National Audubon Society hosts a Christmas Bird Count every year which can always use new volunteers!

This is Citizen Science!

It is a great way to spend time outdoors and contribute to citizen science - where everyday citizens can contribute their time and efforts to collecting information about the natural world. What a fun way to enhance your walk or family adventure by gathering information, contributing to research, and advancing science! The Christmas Bird Count is just such a program, and a really fun way to engage with birds during the winter.

The Christmas Bird Count is an early-winter bird census that provides researchers with important information about the populations of various bird species. This information helps inform ornithologists and conservation biologists about how different bird species are faring over time. For example, the 2007 Christmas Bird Count data was used to help develop Audubon’s Common Birds in Decline Report which indicated which of America’s birds have decreased in population over the past 40 years.

Not only is this information extremely helpful, but it is also one of the only sources of information on bird species populations in North America. Therefore, it is important that people volunteer each year!

How does the Christmas Bird Count Work?

The Christmas Bird Count is a free event which occurs between December 14th and January 5th every year in North and South America. Volunteers sign up to join their local bird count which is hosted for the duration of one full day. All you have to do is send an email to the circle compiler who is organizing the location near you!

Each Christmas Bird Count takes place in a 24 km (15 mile) wide circle that has been established ahead of time. Once you have signed up for a specific location and have been given a date, you will be assigned specified routes to follow within the designated area.

Along their route, volunteers will count every bird they hear or see all day. If you are a beginning birder and don’t have a lot of experience identifying bird species, don’t worry! You will be able to join a group that has at least one experienced bird watcher!

Once all of the data has been collected from the current year, it gets reviewed and confirmed by regional editors. On approval, this information is uploaded into the Christmas Bird Count historical database. The historical database includes bird counts from previous years which can be accessed by anyone!

Count, don’t shoot...

The Christmas Bird Count has been around for over 100 years and has an interesting story behind its creation. The Christmas Bird Count was started by an ornithologist named Frank M. Chapman on Christmas day in the year 1900. This bird count was created as a substitute for the Christmas “Side Hunt” which was a popular holiday tradition. During the side hunt, hunters would split into two groups and see who could shoot the most birds. Instead of hunting birds, Frank M. Chapman, who was concerned about declining bird populations, opted to count them instead.

During this first Christmas Bird Count, 27 interested birders held 25 Christmas Bird Counts. Approximately 90 different bird species were tallied on this first count.

Tips for participating in a Christmas Bird Count

  1. Find a bird count near you! Make use of this map from Audubon. On the map you will see circles where each count is located. If the circle is red, it means the count already has enough volunteers and you are unable to join. Yellow circles mean they are approaching the volunteer limit, while green indicates the count has lots of room. Click on a yellow or green circle and you will be able to email the count organizer in order to sign up.
  2. Dress for the weather! No matter if you are in North America or South America, it is important to stay comfortable throughout the day. This means bundling up if it is cold outside, or wearing removable layers for when it is warm. Don’t forget to wear comfortable walking shoes too!
  3. Bring a water bottle, snacks, and food to keep you fuelled throughout the day.
  4. Consider bringing along tools such as binoculars or a birding guidebook in order to help you identify what you are seeing.
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask your fellow birders questions! This is a great opportunity to learn from others and get some useful bird watching tips. On the other hand, if you are quite experienced , make sure to share your knowledge!

Either way, the Christmas Bird Count is another way to get outdoors, engage with nature and even contribute meaningfully to our understanding of the natural world. Aside from having a nice day outdoors, you will be learning about the birds species in your area, and likely even meet some friendly, like-minded folks. A good thing for any time of the year!

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