BIRDS FOR MORE THAN 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS
December 11, 2011
Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count does not refer to four calling
birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear
tree. It refers instead to an annual event: going outside and actually
counting birds. On December 14, the tradition continues for the 112th
year. So get your binoculars, put on some warm clothes, and join one
of the coordinated surveys. See how many birds of each species you can
identify and count. Scheduled surveys continue through January 5.
is an annual bird census conducted by volunteers, so-called citizen
scientists. The objective is to count, by seeing or hearing, as many
individual birds of as many species as possible within a prescribed
15-mile-diameter area, more than 175 square miles. The bird counters
conduct their survey over a 24-hour time period and record the results.
People with backyard feeders can participate by counting the birds that
visit during a day.
of counting and assessing regional bird life began in 1900 with an ornithologist
named Frank Chapman. He was apparently dismayed with an annual event
during the holiday season in which men had contests to see how many
birds they could shoot. In a triumph for conservation, Chapman countered
by organizing and publicizing a Christmas Day contest in which the objective
was not to shoot birds but to count them. Today most of the one-day
counts are arranged on days about a week before or after Christmas.
Only 27 people were involved in the first CBC. A new record of 62,624
observers (of which 9,774 watched and counted at their bird feeders)
was set last year, with bird counts in all 50 states and all Canadian
provinces. The intent is to conduct the surveys wherever North American
birds spend the winter. Hence, bird counts were also organized on islands
in the Pacific and in tropical America, including Panama, Colombia,
and Ecuador. For the first time a CBC was conducted in Haiti. The total
number of organized bird counts last year was a record-breaking 2,215.
More than 57 million birds of 646 species were counted in the United
a Christmas Bird Count help conservation efforts? As was true of the
first count more than a hundred years ago, an activity of this nature
brings attention to a group of organisms, in this case, birds. When
environmental awareness is brought to the forefront, people begin to
appreciate their native wildlife and natural resources. Ornithologists
and bird lovers do a major service for the environmental welfare of
enthusiasts are a superb example of how a concerted effort by conservation-minded
individuals and groups can bring the plight of particular species to
the attention of the general public. A continual record of presence
and abundance of any group of species can alert us to unusual declines
in numbers, which may reflect environmental problems that can be addressed.
Focusing on habitat conditions can also be important. For example, many
groups throughout the country are evaluating the environmental quality
and conditions of rivers and streams within a state or region. The more
such efforts are undertaken and publicized, and the more people who
get involved, the more likely we are to learn of environmental conditions
that should be remedied. Nothing helps an environmental cause more than
making sure the general public is aware of the situation. Most people
oppose activities that threaten healthy ecosystems.
spotlight approach has been used with great success by people interested
in birds. Today almost all birds in North America are protected at state
or federal levels. The reason for this is not that birds are more important
than other groups of animals or plants. The reason is that the public
has become involved in assessing their status and consequently in caring
about their welfare.
out when the Christmas Bird Count is held in your area, go to birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count.
If you are enthusiastic about birds, the Audubon Society will welcome
you have an environmental question or comment, email