The Christmas Bird Count is an annual event for both recreational bird counters and those focused on the contribution it makes to our knowledge of bird life and wellbeing. The Christmas Bird Count takes place at over two thousand “count circles” across the Western Hemisphere, each with a diameter of 15 miles. Each year, tens of thousands of participants show up to lend their binoculars to the effort. The bird count contributes to the study of birds internationally and here in the United States, and is one of the best and longest-running examples of citizen science in action. But its origins are modest and fairly local to the Northeastern U.S.The Christmas Bird Count, or “census” as it was originally called, was the brainchild of Frank Chapman, an ornithologist, field guide author, and early-on member of the Audubon Society. In 1900, Chapman, along with 26 other observers at 25 sites across North America, set out on Christmas morning to make a list and tally of every bird species and specimen they encountered within a given area. The count was a response to the traditional Christmas “side hunt” where teams of hunters would compete to bring in the most trophies, but was also in conversation with the environmental changes that were apparent even 115 years ago. The point of the bird count was, of course, to count and record as many unique birds as possible and get the attendees out into the fresh air just like its hunting-based counterpart. The count also bears ties to the nascent conservationist and preservationist movements.
You may be wondering why we’re even talking about this, since Christmas has already fluttered past. Good news, everyone! The official Christmas Bird Count lasts through the holidays and wraps on January 5. There’s a map of this year’s counts in addition to organizer contact information available here.But if the ship has sailed or there just isn’t a Christmas Bird Count near you, you can satisfy your bird counting desires or add to your “life list” by grabbing your guide and heading out for a walk in your yard or around your neighborhood. Or perhaps even to a state park, like those you can find with our Pocket Ranger® mobile apps!