Christmas bird count

Each year, I participate in at least one, but usually two, Christmas Bird Counts. What is a Christmas Bird Count you say? Well the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) all started a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. Wait, no that is not right, that is a different story.

Back in the late 1800’s, during the Victorian time, it was a holiday tradition to go out on Christmas Day with your family, and shoot as many small birds as you could find with your shotgun. Contests were held to see who could kill the most birds. Now I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a more festive way to celebrate the holidays then to go out and kill a bunch of small defenseless birds as possible, NOT!

So beginning on Christmas Day 1900, under the guidance of ornithologist Frank M. Chapman, who worked for Audubon Society, a new tradition was started. Instead of going out and killing birds at Christmas, a new “Christmas Bird Census” was established that would send people out to count birds. They didn’t just count the species, but how many of each species they found. For example, they didn’t say they saw a blue jay, they counted how many blue jays they found in a specific area or count circle.

About 27 dedicated birders held the very first Christmas Bird Count that year in New England, Toronto, Ontario and parts of California. All total on the first CBC, 90 species of birds were counted.

All of this information was sent to Audubon Society, and thus, started one of the longest sustained bird studies of all times that continues today. These days, participants in the CBC can sign up  through their local birding clubs, or through the Audubon website. Anytime from December 14 to Jan 5, you go out and count the birds in your assigned area. Some travel great distances to count birds while others simply count in their own backyards.

Now, each year, tens of thousands of volunteers strike out, into the cold of winter to seek out and count birds. The data collected gives us an assessment of the population and range of so many birds, and is often used to guide conservation effects by many organizations, not just Audubon.

It is the most valuable tool to assess the long term health and status of bird populations across North America. When combined with other surveys, such as the Breeding Bird Survey, it gives us a broad look at the overall population trends of nearly all bird species. It is unmatched data that can’t be replaced.

Having a long term perspective on individual species of birds is vital for bird conservation efforts in North America, and helps to identify potential threats to specific species of birds that would not normally be studied. Now, with the climate changing so quickly, the CBC data is extremely valuable to track the changes in bird populations over time.

So, if you are interested in birds, this might be a great outlet for you also. Just contact your local Audubon chapter, and join a group that is doing the CBC in your area. There is always room for more counters. This is a great way to meet like-minded people, and see new places to see birds. It will open many doors for you and get you outside at a time of year when we spend too much time indoors. Until next time...

Stan Tekiela is an author / naturalist and wildlife photographer who travels the world to study and photograph wildlife. He can be followed on www.face and twitter. com. He can be contacted via his web page at 


The Drummer and The Wright County Journal Press

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108 Central Ave.
Buffalo MN 55313

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