This Christmas, you may want to leave the partridge in his pear tree and the three French hens in France and instead, give a gift to the birds by taking part in the National Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count.
For more than 100 years, volunteers across the United States, Canada, and many other nations in the Western Hemisphere, have participated in this bird census, counting species in a 24-hour period. The Christmas Bird Count is the longest running citizen science survey in the world, and takes place from December 14th through January 5th.
The Christmas Bird Count began in the early 1900s as an alternative to an event called a “side hunt.” Sides were chosen and then the teams went out and shot as many birds as possible. The group that bagged the most birds won. Famed ornithologist, Frank Chapman noted the declining bird population and proposed to count birds on Christmas Day rather than shoot them, and thus the Christmas Bird Count was hatched.
Scientists use the results of the bird count to monitor changes in the environment and bird populations. The most ubiquitous bird in our area found during the 2013 count was the American Crow, with nearly 33,000 cataloged during the count. In addition, a rarity, the first ever Black Vulture, was spotted in Franklin Park. For many, the annual bird count has become a holiday tradition. Families, students, bird lovers, and scientists, armed with binoculars, field guides, and checklists work together in a specified 15-mile wide circle organized by a count compiler to gather the information and relay it to the Audubon Society.
You don’t have to be an experienced birder to participate. Beginners are assigned to a group with at least one experienced birdwatcher. If you have a home feeder in the boundary of an established bird count circle, you can count the birds coming to your feeder on the designated Christmas Bird Count day for your area if you make prior arrangements with the bird count compiler. It is free to participate, but donations to the Audubon Society are gladly accepted, and you must register in advance with your circle compiler.
In early November, the map of the circles is released, and you can then sign up to volunteer.
With sitting in holiday traffic, rushing about the mall shopping, and fighting crowds, setting aside a day to get out in the fresh air and count our feathered friends just may turn out to be the best Christmas gift you give yourself this holiday season.
For more information on how you can participate in the Christmas Bird Count, visit: www.audubon.org/conservation/science/christmas-bird-count.