Christmas has many heart-warming traditions, including one that has saved the lives of countless birds in the Western Hemisphere. Let’s look at the Christmas Bird Count (CBC), a fun and equally helpful tradition over a century old and one which has no end in sight.
From Hunting to Counting
Once upon a time, hunters participated in a holiday tradition called the Christmas Side Hunt with the goal being to bring in the most amount of birds and other wildlife.
Sensibilities were different at the time but the conservation movement was beginning to change Western attitudes toward the way people treated the environment. One such example was modifying the Christmas Side Hunt into something more humane—and even useful. According to Audubon:
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.
Mr. Chapman’s work and enthusiasm led to 27 birders embarking on 25 different Christmas Bird Counts, beginning a tradition that continues to this day.
What’s the Use of the Bird Count?
The Christmas Bird Count is an example of the budding conservation movement from that era but it’s about much more than sparing birds from being hunted for sporting purposes. Over time, the bird count has led to scientific achievements.
According to Audubon “CBC data have been used in hundreds of analyses, peer-reviewed publications, and government reports over the decades.” Audubon publishes an annual report, summarizing the bird counts.
The Bird Count continues to grow in size. A recent report states “There are now over 2500 CBCs in the United States, Canada, Hawaii, the Pacific Islands, the Caribbean, Central and South America, and the more the merrier!”
If you’re a Mainer or just visiting Maine during the CBC season, you may be able to participate in the tradition. Continue reading for more information on how you can help.
How is a Bird Count Operated?
A bird count is led by a compiler with a number of participants counting the birds. The compiler helps to bring in, train, and guide the participants. The compiler submits the data to the appropriate authorities.
Each bird count takes place in a 15-mile circle. Participants follow a set route and count every bird they see or hear. The count is not limited to certain species.
There is no charge for participating in the bird count but a participant is responsible for transportation and providing their binoculars.
When Is This Year’s Bird Count?
The Audubon’s 123rd Christmas Bird Count is being held from December 14, 2002, to January 5, 2023. If you can’t make this year’s event, be sure to check back in 2023 to register to participate.
While new folks are always welcome to participate, counters are generally assigned to designated sectors by the Count Compiler.
If you’d like to see what a Christmas Bird Count is like in Maine, click here for a look at a recent CBC.
From the Friends of Maine Coastal Islands Wildlife Refuge, we wish you all the best this holiday season.