Longest-Running Bird Census Turns 116 Years Old

Help Count Birds for Science during Audubon’s Annual Christmas Bird Count

For more than 100 years, Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count, the longest-running wildlife census, has fueled science and conservation action. Each winter, citizen scientists gather in 15-mile-wide circles, organized by a count compiler, and count every bird they see or hear. Their hard work provides valuable insights into population trends for many species that would otherwise go unnoticed and undocumented.

Wondering what the origins are of this century old tradition? Read how the count started, and how the data is used today in this post, History of the Christmas Bird Count.

The Audubon Christmas Bird Count began in 1900 when Dr. Frank Chapman, founder of Bird-Lore – which evolved into Audubon magazine – suggested an alternative to the holiday “side hunt,” in which teams competed to see who could shoot the most birds. 116 years of counting birds is a long time, but the program somehow brings out the best in people, and they stay involved for the long run. Remarkably the entire existence of the program can still be measured with the involvement of two ornithologists—Chapman, who retired in 1934, and Chan Robbins, who started compiling in 1934 and still compiles and participates to this day. The old guard may someday move on, but up-and-coming young birders will fill the ranks. And so the tradition continues.

Modern day methods of observing and recording data would be mind-boggling to the naturalist of 1900. “New tools, including apps, smartphones and map-based technologies, are making it easier than ever for anyone to be a citizen scientist,” said Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold.

The Audubon Christmas Bird Count is a citizen science project organized by the National Audubon Society. There is no fee to participate and the quarterly report, American Birds, is available online. Counts are open to birders of all skill levels and Audubon’s free Bird Guide app makes it even easier to chip in. For more information and to find a count near you visit www.christmasbirdcount.org.

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