December is upon us. The season for Christmas shopping, parades, and hot cocoa has officially begun. But for birdwatchers, the holiday season is extra exciting. Winter is the season when food becomes scarce in the wild and birds tend to congregate at feeders and baths (especially the heated ones). Winter also brings with it the opportunity to participate in one of the National Audubon Society’s biggest nation-wide events; the Christmas Bird Count.
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This year’s Christmas Bird Count is set to begin on December 14th, 2023. It will run until January 5th. For those unfamiliar with this event, the Audubon Christmas Bird Count is an event that allows birdwatchers, from total beginners to lifelong twitchers, to come together and collaborate on some exciting “citizen science.” Citizen science refers to scientific research conducted by ordinary people. Ornithology is particularly dependent on citizen science and data from birdwatchers often plays a major role in our evolving understanding of avian populations.
This year marks the 124th Christmas Bird Count. The count began in the year 1900 when early conservationists got together on Christmas Day to count birds instead of hunting them as a means of promoting conservation. The first count only had a handful of participants, but nowadays the Christmas Bird Count draws thousands of citizen scientists.
If you’d like to participate in the Christmas Bird Count this year, take a look at this map. Christmas Bird Count groups operate in circular territories with a 15 mile diameter. Find a circle in your area that’s still accepting applicants and reach out to the designated compiler. They’ll assign you a place to watch within the designated territory. From there, it’s just a matter of recording all the birds that you see! The Christmas Bird Count doesn’t just record the species spotted, but also the total number of each. This provides valuable population data once the information is reported and compiled.
If there are no Christmas Bird Count groups open near you, it is possible to apply to establish one. The Christmas Bird Count does require that the data be formally collected by approved groups, though, so you cannot participate by birdwatching on your own and reporting the data. This rule might be frustrating if there aren’t any open groups in your area, but it is thanks to the guidelines in place that the Christmas Bird Count is able to provide such revealing and useful data each year.
If a more informal solo birdwatching outing is more your style, stay tuned for the Great Backyard Bird Count that the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and the National Audubon society host together each year. This event is coming up in February of 2024 and allows for a much less structured approach to citizen science.
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