The Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count is one of the longest-running citizen science projects in existence- it was started on Christmas Day in 1900 and is still going strong. During the event, people venture outdoors to designated areas and count the types and numbers of birds that they see and hear over the course of one day. The data are used to keep track of the health of bird populations in North America. This year’s count runs from December 14, 2018 through January 5, 2019.
The counts are conducted within a 15-mile wide circle, and the counts for each circle are organized by a “circle compiler.” To participate in the count- it’s free – you need to sign up with a local circle compiler at this Audubon.org website. As of Sunday, December 9th, there were still several circles with open registrations available (the open ones are the circles shown below in yellow and green, and the red ones are full circles that are no longer accepting new participants). No worries if you are a beginning bird watcher because you will be matched up with a more experienced birder. Also, you can try checking with local nature centers in your area, as they may be hosting special Christmas Bird Count events.
During last year’s 118th Christmas Bird Count, a total of 2,673 species and 59,242,067 birds were counted, and participant levels were at a record high. Geoffrey LeBaron, manager of the Christmas Bird Count program, offered this touching tribute to last year’s participants who collected data from the areas ravaged by wildfires and hurricanes:
Incredibly, nearly every existing Christmas Bird Count in these areas were conducted during the 118th Christmas Bird Count – mere weeks after the catastrophic effects of all these events. Counters in California slogged through burned habitats searching for birds; birders in Texas put down their chain saws and shovels and went out and counted birds; participants in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands put their recovery efforts on hold (even in the face of no electricity) and searched the wind-stripped forests in the hopes of finding some of their avian neighbors. It can’t be over-stated how important these efforts were in this first season following all these disasters. Our understanding of how habitats and birds recover – and how humans recover – in the face of such events depends upon regular monitoring, as the Christmas Bird Count has done for 118 years.
This year’s 119th Christmas Bird Count is sure to yield additional interesting and important data that will help scientists better understand bird populations. You can share your bird count photographs and experiences on social media with the hashtag #ChristmasBirdCount. Of course, we here at EarthSky would love to have you send us your photographs too!
If you can’t make it out for the Christmas Bird Count, you can still share your love for birds this December on social media as part of the Year of the Bird campaign organized by Audubon and several other organizations. You can learn more about the Year of the Bird campaign at the link here.
Bottom line: Audubon’s 119th Christmas Bird Count will take place from December 14, 2018 – January 5, 2019. This long-running citizen science project provides scientists with valuable information about the health of bird populations in North America.
Deanna Conners is an Environmental Scientist who holds a Ph.D. in Toxicology and an M.S. in Environmental Studies. Her interest in toxicology stems from having grown up near the Love Canal Superfund Site in New York. Her current work is to provide high-quality scientific information to the public and decision-makers and to help build cross-disciplinary partnerships that help solve environmental problems. She writes about Earth science and nature conservation for EarthSky.