WHAT IS A CHRISTMAS BIRD COUNT?
The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is a census of birds in the Western Hemisphere, performed annually in the early Northern-hemisphere winter by volunteer birdwatchers and administered by the National Audubon Society. The purpose is to provide population data for use in science, especially conservation biology, though many people participate for recreation. The CBC is the longest-running citizen science survey in the world.
But data-gathering isn’t the only benefit of bird counts.
“Voluntary citizen-based platforms are not only tools for collecting great amounts of data, they also engage the public, something that forms a basis for future interest in biodiversity and conservation,”Christian Science Monitor: Citizen science
FROM SIDE HUNT TO BIRD COUNT
In the late 1800s, an unfortunate holiday tradition was hastening the extinction of bird species all over North America. The Side Hunt, held each year on Christmas Day, was a festive slaughter whereby armed participants wandered the countryside shooting at every bird and small animal they saw. At the end of the hunt, teams tallied their kills to find out which side won.
Needless to say, birds were not among the winners – and conservationists, including famed ornithologist Frank M. Chapman, became increasingly alarmed at the resulting destruction. In 1899, as a member of the staff of the American Museum of Natural History, he created an illustrated bi-monthly magazine devoted to the study and protection of birds called Bird Lore. Bird-Lore was the immediate predecessor of Audubon magazine.
As editor of Bird-Lore, Frank uses the very first issue to propose a new kind of Christmas side hunt, in the form of a Christmas bird-census. Frank writes, “We hope that all our readers who have the opportunity will aid us in making it a success by spending a portion of Christmas Day with the birds and sending a report of their ‘hunt’ to Bird-Lore before they retire that night.”
On Christmas Day, 1900, twenty-seven bird lovers from New Brunswick, Canada, to Monterey County, California—a total of thirteen states and two provinces were represented—went afield.
They found 90 species and 18,500 individual birds, but most importantly, these bird lovers discovered each other. The first continental birdwatching network was born.
Jump to CBC #119
Counts Completed in CBC #119
- 1974 from the United States,
- 460 counts are included from Canada, and
- 181 from the Caribbean, Latin America, and Pacific Islands
- 4 counts from Stanislaus and Merced Counties
- CALW – La Grange-Waterford
- CALS – Los Banos
- CAMR – Merced NWR
- CACW – Caswell-Westley
Birds Counted in the current year: 48,642,567
Species Counted: 2638
- 661 from the United States,
- 285 from Canada
Observers: 79,425 observers
- 60,392 from the United States
- 14,816 observers from Canada
- 4217 in Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Islands.
Count Circle Species High Counts
- World – Yanayacu, Napo, Ecuador 491 species
- US – Matagorda County-Mad Island Marsh, TX 237 species
- CA – San Diego, CA 217 species
- Stanislaus/Merced Counties – Caswell-Westley 140 species
A TYPICAL COUNT DAY
A typical CBC spans a full 24-hour day must be held between December 14 and January 5 each count year. Each count area encompasses a 15-mile diameter circle and is broken up into segments, with an experienced birder that oversees their segment participants.
Some intrepid participants opt to go out well before sunrise to census nocturnal species such as owls. This level of commitment is usually accompanied by lots of clothing layers and a large thermos of hot coffee.
Owling with Richard Taylor
This tradition varies from count to count and may not occur in some counts. When it is a part of the count tradition, participants may opt to meet together at a nearby restaurant for an early breakfast. This engaging social activity involves lots of exciting predictions of the species that will be encountered throughout the day and by the end of the meal, count areas are assigned and census materials distributed.
CBC Breakfast Kickoff
COUNTING: FROM ORCHARDS & ROW CROPS TO WETLANDS & FORESTS
CBC participants look for birds in every nook and cranny of their territory. This may include backyard bird feeders, dairies, canals, and wildlife refuges; every location has a potential bird to count. While each area has at least one experienced birder, the CBC welcomes birders of all ages and experience levels. Even if you know nothing about birds, if you can see movement or hear a bird making noise you can be an excellent spotter.
At the end of the day, many CBCs end with a social get together for a warm meal, lots of story-sharing and a countdown of the species observed in each area. The anticipation of who got which rare bird builds as teams fill-out rare sighting documentation with lots of whispering and note comparisoning. There are typically lots of oohs and awes, as well as a few (hopefully only a few) !*%#& misses.
CBC Countdown Get Together