It’s almost time again for the Audubon Christmas Bird Count!
This citizen science effort counts birds in specific areas (15-mile diameter circles) between December 14 and January 5 every year. And you can be a part of it.
Circles have been established in the US and Canada, as well as Mexico, Central America, parts of South America, and some Caribbean islands.
Most areas of the country have at least one circle, chosen and overseen by a count compiler. The Audubon Society has a map of expected circles to help you find one near you.
Each circle takes its count on a specific date, determined by the count compiler. If there’s more than one circle near you, you can participate in them all (as long as each count compiler approves your application).
Put simply, it’s the longest-running wildlife census in the U.S. It’s also an all-volunteer effort.
It began in 1900, when 26 people counted all the birds they saw or heard in their neighborhood for a few hours on Christmas Day.
(Before that people competed to see how many birds they could kill on Christmas. The ornithologist Frank Chapman suggested counting instead of killing, and it caught on).
Soon it turned into 24-hour counts. And then into organized groups covering specific areas.
In the 1950s the National Audubon Society standardized the areas and counting methods. This makes it easier and more accurate to make comparisons from year to year and area to area.
Part of this standardization is the 15-mile diameter (non-overlapping) circles. On the specified date, volunteer counters take specific paths through the circle and count each bird they see or hear.
Some counters may also count birds visiting home feeders.
Once the counts are done, the data goes to the National Audubon Society. The Society adds it to the CBC database for researchers to use for things like comparing counts over time and between regions.
Scroll down for more information on this important citizen-science census.
Sign up to be a counter!
Beginners and experienced bird watchers welcome. But anyone who wants to help must contact the count compiler ahead of time. Unless the circle is full, compilers generally accept anyone who asks to help.
Circles do have a limit to the number of volunteers needed. So if one circle is closed, consider applying to help with another one nearby.
Each group of counters will have at least one experienced counter. So don’t worry if you don’t quite know what you’re doing! There’ll be someone to guide you.
If you live within a circle, you may be able to just count birds that visit your feeder on the specified day. But that’s up to the count compiler for that circle.
Even if you can’t participate in the count, consider joining or donating to the Audubon Society. Volunteers used to pay to participate, but the Audubon Society made it free in 2012. So this citizen science effort is 100% donation supported.
And the funds are needed for more than just the count days. The rest of the year the database still needs to be managed and remain available to researchers. This also costs money!
And, of course, other Audubon programs work to protect vulnerable birds and their habitats across the country.
If you can’t celebrate the Christmas Bird Count, consider trying to be part of the Great Backyard Bird Count