Each year since its inception in 1900 the Audubon Christmas Bird Count has provided a window into the distribution and health of bird populations across North America. Between December 14 and January 5, tens of thousands of bird-loving volunteers will participate in counts across the continent. The twelve decades’ worth of data collected by participants continue to contribute to one of only two large existing pools of information notifying ornithologists and conservation biologists about what conservation action is required to protect birds and the places they need. When combined with other surveys such as the Breeding Bird Survey, it provides a picture of how the continent’s bird populations have changed in time and space over the past hundred years.
A frequently asked question about the count is: “Why are we counting birds in winter?” It all has to do with how the count got it’s start. Prior to the turn of the 20th century, hunters engaged in a holiday tradition known as the Christmas “Side Hunt.” They would choose sides and go afield with their guns—whoever brought in the biggest pile of feathered (and furred) quarry won.
Conservation was in its beginning stages in that era, and many observers and scientists were becoming concerned about declining bird populations. Beginning on Christmas Day 1900, ornithologist Frank M. Chapman, an early officer in the then-nascent Audubon Society, proposed a new holiday tradition – a “Christmas Bird Census” that would count birds during the holidays rather than hunt them, and thus the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count was born.
Last year, the 119th Christmas Bird Count included a record-setting 2615 count circles, with 1975 counts in the United States, 460 in Canada and 180 in Latin America, the Caribbean, Bermuda and the Pacific Islands. This was the ninth-straight year of record-breaking counts. In total, 79,425 observers out in the field and watching feeders tallied up over 48 million birds representing more than 2600 species different species—more than one-quarter of the world’s known avifauna. Approximately 5 percent of the North American landmass was surveyed by the Christmas Bird Count.
The recent news for our feathered friends has not been good. With the release of Audubon’s latest report on birds and climate, “Survival by Degrees”, we know that two-thirds of North American bird species are at increasing risk of extinction. If you’d like to see how your favorite species is doing you can review the last few decades of data here.
This year the central Bucks County Audubon Christmas Bird Count will take place on December 29. In order to preserve the usefulness of the data collected, participants must make arrangements in advance to participate. Bucks Audubon will be spearheading a section of our 15mi diameter count circle starting at 8am that day. Please contact Diane L. Smith, Director of Education via email at firstname.lastname@example.org to join.
No experience is necessary!