With Christmas Comes the Count.
This year, from December 14 2014 to January 5, 2015, Christmas lights, Hanukah candles, holiday parties and New Year’s celebrations will not be the only traditions observed. The National Audubon Society will hold its 115th annual Christmas Bird Count.
Thought to be the largest citizen science endeavor, the CBC is comprised of over 30,000 volunteers worldwide. Researchers, conservation biologists and students as well as amateur birders all sign up to count the many species of birds in their local areas. But the count wasn’t always this widespread. Begun in 1900 by ornithologist Frank Chapman, the first count included only 27 people. At the turn of the century, a common Christmas tradition was to hold “side hunts” where hunters divided into sides and headed afield to bring back as many birds, or other prey, as they could. Whichever side had the highest tally won. Chapman was an early conservationist and suggested a Christmas count instead of a hunt.
While the first count documented only 90 species of birds, recent counts have tallied more than 2,400 species and between 60 and 70 million birds. The 114th Christmas Bird Count was a record year with 2,408 circle counts being submitted. A circle is 15 miles in diameter and broken up into specific routes and sectors. Each circle count is conducted in one calendar day. No fees are charged to be part of the count.
The long-term outlook that the count provides is invaluable to conservationists. Bird counts are vital to protecting species, monitoring bird habitats and providing information on environmental factors. In the 1980’s CBC data documented the decline of wintering populations of the American Black Duck, after which conservation measures were put into effect to reduce hunting pressure on this species. Data from the CBC in 2012 was included in the Environmental Protection Agency’s report on climate change.
While it may not be the most well known holiday happening, thousands of bird enthusiasts take part in the Christmas Bird Count each year. For them it isn’t Christmas without making a list—of birds— and checking it twice.