Cooped up? Try a Christmas Bird Count!

posted in: Birds, Local Conservation | 0

The weather’s getting colder and the daylight is all gone by the time the workday’s done, which means a lot of us aren’t getting out as much as we used to. Pandemic isolation and the disruption of routine can make it hard to find time to get out in nature, enjoy some fresh air and get some vitamin D, but it can still do wonders for your well-being. If you’ve been looking for a good excuse to get out of the house for a little while, why not consider volunteering for a Christmas Bird Count somewhere near you? 

A small songbird with a charcoal-gray body and snow-white belly stands on a concrete staircase, with bare winter ground and hardy plants behind it.
Dark-eyed Juncos become much more common and easy to see during the colder months, when their social flocks roam through parks and suburban neighborhoods.
A middle-aged white man is pictured from the breast up looking at the camera. He is wearing a dark suit jacket and tie, and he has a thick mustache. His head is extensively balding.
Frank Chapman

The Christmas Bird Count is a time-honored tradition started by ornithologist Frank Chapman over a century ago. In 1900, it was common practice for “persons of leisure” to take a shotgun out on Christmas day and shoot whatever birds they could find, then reconvene at days’ end to compare what they had bagged. Chapman, hoping to spare some birds and promote interest in bird biology, instead proposed to some of his friends that they observe and count birds instead of shooting them. His friends agreed, tallying 90 species across 25 separate North American counts, and the Christmas Bird Count (or “CBC”) grew from there. 

Now, the CBC is run by the National Audubon Society and it’s no longer only on Christmas day. It has become the largest systematic survey of wintering birds on the continent and its impact on avian conservation has been impressive – it was CBC results that first signaled the decline of species like American Black Duck and Harris’ Sparrow, and witnessed the climate-driven expansion of southern species like Northern Cardinal and Carolina Wren. There are many different “circles” across North America, each one with a radius of 7.5 miles and overseen by a count compiler. Every one of those circles needs to be thoroughly birded by volunteers between December 14 and January 5, and many circles are eager to welcome new volunteers! All you need to do is contact the count compiler of a circle near you to register your interest, and they can tell you more about where and when specifically that circle will be doing its survey. You can go out in small teams (pandemic precautions permitting) or on your own, and report all your sightings at the end of the day. To learn more and find your nearest circle, visit the CBC website and use this interactive map to explore survey circles near you. 

A map view of southern New England, showing dozens of colored circles representing CBC survey areas. Each circle is colored red, yellow, or green and has a black silhouette of a soaring bird on it.
Many of the yellow and green circles on this map are still accepting survey volunteers for this winter

Joining a CBC circle is a great way to see your area in a whole new light, meet new people around you interested in nature, and contribute to furthering our understanding of winter bird abundance. Get out there and enjoy!