The holidays are here! It’s time for feasting, visiting with friends and family, and honoring traditions. For a birder, one of the those traditions is the annual Christmas Bird Count.
Where did this tradition originate? What does it entail? Why do we do it?
The Christmas Bird Count (“CBC”) replaced the tradition of the Christmas Side Hunt in 1900. During the Side Hunt, teams would compete to see who could kill the most prey, both feathered and furred. Frank Chapman, an officer in the Audubon Society, suggested conducting a census of birds, rather than a slaughter of them. That first year, 27 people participated in 25 bird counts and reported about 90 species.
Over a century later, the CBC has continued to be an important form of citizen science. The data collected helps researchers study bird populations and how those populations have changed. Armed with this information, additional studies and conservation measures can be taken to help the birds overcome the issues which affect them. For example, in the 1980’s it became apparent that wintering populations of the American Black Duck were in decline. Strict harvest regulations were put in place which has helped slow the decline.
There are specific rules governing CBCs. The count runs from December 14 to January 5. Each count is conducted in one calendar day and covers a 15-mile diameter circle. Participants are organized into groups or field parties by the compiler of each count, and the field party covers a specific area of the 15-mile circle. All individual birds are identified by sight or sound and counted. This provides a census of the total number of birds in the circle.
Last year, about 2,400 counts took place from the Arctic to the Andes. A record number of 71,659 people participated, tallying 66,243,371 birds from 2403 species! Two new species were recorded for the U.S.: Sinaloa Wren in Arizona and Red-throated Pipit in California. This year marks our 115th CBC. Perhaps we’ll break even more records!
Be sure to join a CBC near you. You’ll be conducting important research, you’ll get to spend time with your birding friends, and it’s a great way to spend the holidays!
To see a 20-minute video by the National Audubon Society about CBCs, go to: http://birds.audubon.org/videos/audubons-christmas-bird-count-tallying-birds-americas-over-century