Christmas Bird Counts
change in the past hundred years demonstrates the remarkable
shift in man's relationship with wildlife: far more people these days
are hunting birds with binoculars and cameras than with guns.
For example, in the state of Florida, where less than 3 percent of the
population now purchases hunting licenses, yet millions of people travel
here from all over the world annually to stalk birds roosting or nesting
in the state's mangroves, marshes, fields and forests.
Ironically, the annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) sponsored by the National Audubon
Society began as an alternative to the Christmas tradition of sending
teams of hunters afield who would shoot anything that moved, edible
Back then the hunting team with the largest bag of birds at the end
of the day was the winner. Good sport, as long as you weren't a bird.
In 1900, one of the early giants of American ornithology, Frank M. Chapman, instituted
a substitute activity. He and two dozen others spread out in varying parts of the Northeast
U.S. to see who could claim the biggest bag of bird sightings.
This was the origin of the CBCs, which today involve more than 50,000 people
every year in the U.S., Canada and South America.
The annual count is always held on a single day during the last two
weeks of December, or the first week of January, at 1,600 different
count sites. Each site encompass a circle 15-miles wide.
Birders take to the field for a 24-hour period and count all the different
species as well as the total number of birds. Some winters, the count
has gone as high as 190 million birds in North America alone.
It takes a lot of people to man a 15-mile wide circle, so new eyes are
nearly always welcomed . The counters, all of whom are volunteers, begin
their day before sunrise, looking for owls in the forests, along back
country roads, and in parks.
If you know little about birds but want to learn more, this can be a wonderful
opportunity as long as you're honest about your field experience. Typically,
those with limited birding abilities are teamed with more experienced
Since the holiday season is also a time of good cheer (the kind that
comes in bottles), more than one birder has been questioned by a rookie
cop suspicious of anyone calling to owls in the cold, early AM.
How to Join a Christmas Bird Count. Click here.
Another alternative: Watching birds in your backyard with Project
Return to December Hotspots
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