Christmas Bird Count time is here

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The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) season is upon us. The local one that I participate in — the Westport Circle — takes place on Sunday. Many of the counts take place this weekend, but the range to do the count started on Dec. 14 and runs through Jan. 5. Participants spend all day “in the field” counting birds (individual species and total number) and send the data to the circle’s compiler, who turns it all into the National Audubon Society.

The Christmas Bird Count is the world’s largest citizen science program with data going back to 1900. The data helps scientists track bird populations and is valuable in determining what steps, if any, need to be taken to help certain species.

The data, of course, is valuable and is indeed the most important part of the CBC. But it’s also a fun day to look for birds all day. Sometimes the weather doesn’t cooperate — let me rephrase that, the weather hardly ever cooperates — but that only adds to the excitement of the Count. I’ve done the Count in blizzard conditions, rain and sunny skies. That’s New England for you. The Count is held all over North America (and even beyond now) but I’ll take my New England weather and birds any day.

Here’s my local forecast for Sunday from the National Weather Service: “A slight chance of snow before 10am, then a slight chance of rain and snow between 10am and 1pm, then a slight chance of rain after 1pm. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 41.”

Yeah, that sounds about right. A little warmer than usual, though.

To participate, get in touch with the Count’s compiler. It is a highly organized effort with teams scouring different parts of a 15-mile circle. Google searches should yield the local count in your area. Inexperienced birders will be paired with more seasoned birdwatchers. Backyard feeder watchers are welcome, too. Again, find out who the local compiler is.

The history of how the Christmas Bird Count started in 1900 is very interesting. Here’s some of the story, taken directly from the National Audubon Society’s website:

“Prior to the turn of the century, people engaged in a holiday tradition known as the Christmas “Side Hunt”: They would choose sides and go afield with their guns; whoever brought in the biggest pile of feathered (and furred) quarry won.

Conservation was in its beginning stages around the turn of the 20th century, and many observers and scientists were becoming concerned about declining bird populations. Beginning on Christmas Day 1900, ornithologist Frank Chapman, an early officer in the then budding Audubon Society, proposed a new holiday tradition-a “Christmas Bird Census”-that would count birds in the holidays rather than hunt them.

So began the Christmas Bird Count. Thanks to the inspiration of Frank M. Chapman and the enthusiasm of twenty-seven dedicated birders, twenty-five Christmas Bird Counts were held that day. The locations ranged from Toronto, Ontario to Pacific Grove, California with most counts in or near the population centers of northeastern North America. Those original 27 Christmas Bird Counters tallied around 90 species on all the counts combined.”

The website has tons of pages to peruse and you can spend hours looking at the mountains of data of individual birds and regions. Well, I can spend hours doing that anyway. The website may be found by clicking here.

Good luck to all the birders out there. You’re counting the birds, but the birds are counting on you.

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