Christmas Bird Counts - Christmas Bird Count History Importance


Christmas Bird Counts

Their importance and history





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Christmas Bird Counts

One 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 or not.

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 counters.

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 FeederWatch .

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