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. Read the rest of this entry »

Citizen Scientists Wanted for Annual Christmas Bird Count

Christmas Bird Count: An Annual Citizen Scientist
24 Hour Hunt for Bird Species

This beautiful Cedar Waxwing is a year-round resident and a commonly seen during the Christmas Bird Count. (Photo credit: Leslie Reed-Evans)

Leslie Reed-Evans writes:

Imagine standing at the edge of a frosty field on a chill December morning.  Out of the corner of your eye you see an electric flash of blue- a male Eastern Bluebird flying to a wild rose bush to munch on its fruit1 – This is a scene played out all over New England, and indeed the country, as bird enthusiasts get out to find, identify and count as many individual birds and species as possible as members of the annual Christmas Bird Count.

According to the National Audubon, prior to the turn of the century people 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 around the turn of the 20th century, and many observers and scientists were becoming concerned about declining bird populations. Beginning on Christmas Day 1900, ornithologist Frank Chapman, an early officer in the then budding Audubon Society, proposed a new holiday tradition -a “Christmas Bird Census”-that would count birds in the holidays rather than hunt them. One hundred and thirteen years later, hundreds of citizen scientists head for the woodlands, fields, ponds and rivers to compete with fellow participants and find the most number of birds, building on the tradition started so long ago.  Everyone is looking for the most exciting and unusual species, but every bird sighted is a special one.

Counts may take place anytime between December 14 and January 5, and each count area is a circle extending from a center point with a 15-mile diameter, taking in as many habitats as possible.  The count period is 24 hours.  The north Berkshire count averages  between 45 and 55 species, depending on the weather of the day, and the weather leading up to the count day.  This year there have been many reports of winter finches, such as Pine Grosbeaks and crossbills, which in some years come from the north when cones or other food is in short supply.

Each of the citizen scientists who annually braves snow, wind, or rain to take part in the Christmas Bird Count makes an enormous contribution to conservation. Audubon and other organizations use data collected in this longest-running wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations – and to help guide conservation action.  Everyone who takes part in the Christmas Bird Count does it for love of birds and the excitement of friendly competition — and with the knowledge that their efforts are making a difference for science and bird conservation.

If you are interested in finding a Christmas Bird Count to take part in, visit birds.audubon.org (or contact the organizers below).

You will be participating in a tradition that you just might adopt as your own!

Western MA Area Christmas Bird Count Dates & Organizers:

  • Springfield Area Christmas Count: Saturday, December 15th, 2012. Contact: George Kingston. 413-525-6742. gcking@yahoo.com
  • North Berkshire Christmas Bird Count: Saturday, December 15th, 2012. Contact: Leslie Reed-Evans. 413-458-5150. lre@wrlf.org.
  • Central Berkshire Christmas Bird Count: Saturday, December 15th, 2012. Contact: Tom Collins. tcbirder@nycap.rr.com.
  • Westfield Area Christmas Count: Saturday, December 22nd, 2012. Contact: Seth Kellogg. 413-569-3335. skhawk@comcast.net.
  • South Berkshire Christmas Bird Count: Tuesday, January 1st, 2013. Contact: Rene Laubach. rlaubach@massaudubon.org.

Volunteer as a Citizen Scientist this Holiday Season

National Audubon’s 112th Annual Christmas Bird Count

112 years ago, the Audubon Christmas Bird Count began when Frank Chapman, founder of the Audubon magazine, suggested an alternative to hunting birds and proposed that people “hunt” them only to count them. Now armed with binoculars, pad and pen, tens of thousands of volunteers head outside to count and record the winter resident population of birds in their region. This data helps with conservation efforts. (Courtesy photo)

National Audubon’s annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) takes place from December 14th through January 5th.  Add some outdoor adventure and wildlife observations to your family’s holiday traditions this year by participating in your local CBC Circle by counting and collecting data about the birds in your neighborhood to gauge the wellness of the nation’s bird populations.

The CBC offers families an annual opportunity to participate together as Citizen Scientists and beginning birders who can’t identify many bird species are warmly welcomed to join in too. Kids can learn about local avian wildlife habitats and bird populations by counting and collecting data with their parents. The data collected during the count is used by Audubon and other organizations to assess the health of bird populations.  The yearly count is the longest running ornithology census!

There are bird counts all over the country, including 33 organized count circles in the state of Massachusetts alone. According to Audubon, counts are often family or community traditions that make for fascinating stories. Accuracy is assured by having new participants join an established group that includes at least one experienced birdwatcher. CBC Circles ensure that even the most inexperienced birders can properly count and record data, as each circle is lead by an Audubon Count Compiler.  Count volunteers follow specified routes through a designated 15-mile diameter circle or can arrange in advance to count the birds at home feeders inside the circle and submit the results to a designated compiler.

To follow are Western MA events local compilers are leading, and/or their contact info to get involved. This list will be updated as event information filters in, so check back for updates: Read the rest of this entry »

Christmas Bird Count: Citizen Science in Action

Christmas Bird Count: Citizen Science in Action
December 14th – January 5th

Hilltown kids participating in a bird count last year at the Chesterfield Gorge. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

For three weeks beginning December 14th, 2009, tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the Americas take part in an adventure that has become a family tradition among generations. Families and students, birders and scientists, armed with binoculars, bird guides and checklists go out on an annual mission – often before dawn. For over one hundred years, the desire to both make a difference and to experience the beauty of nature has driven dedicated people to leave the comfort of a warm house during the Holiday season.

Each of the citizen scientists who annually braves snow, wind, or rain, to take part in the Christmas Bird Count makes an enormous contribution to conservation. Audubon and other organizations use data collected in this longest-running wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations – and to help guide conservation action.

From feeder-watchers and field observers to count compilers and regional editors, everyone who takes part in the Christmas Bird Count does it for love of birds and the excitement of friendly competition — and with the knowledge that their efforts are making a difference for science and bird conservation.

To find out how you can get involved, click HERE.

Events happening in the Berkshires for the Christmas Count:

  • Saturday, December 19th
    North Berkshire Christmas Count
    Count species in Williamstown, New Ashford, North Adams, and Adams with members of N. Berkshire Audubon. Contact Gary Soucie (458-0309, wf5f@roadrunner.com) or Pam Weatherbee (458-3538) for more information. Blizzard date: 12/20
  • Sunday, December 20th
    Central Berkshire Christmas Count
    Join a team and keep the tradition going. Sign up at Members Night (12/1), or contact count leader Tom Collins (499-2799, tcbirder@nycap.rr.com) for departure place and time. Blizzard date: 12/27.
  • Friday, January 1st
    South Berkshire Christmas Count
    Join a team and welcome the new year with some winter birding. Contact René Laubach (637-0320, rlaubach@massaudubon.org) to sign up or for more information about time and place.

February Bird Count

Another bird count your family can participate in this winter is the Great Backyard Bird Count, a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. This year the GBBC happens February 12th-15th, 2010.  Click HERE to read more about the GBBC.

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