Migratory birds need your help! Photo by Bill Thompson, III

Christmas Bird Counting

A long-standing program sponsored by the National Audubon Society, the Christmas Bird Count takes place each winter from December 14 to January 5 in designated 15-mile-diameter circles across North America. Each circle count is conducted in one day. Thousands of bird watchers participate in this annual bird census, contributing data that is invaluable to assessing North American bird populations and guiding conservation action.

If you have never participated in a CBC, you are truly missing out on a fun bird-watching tradition. Each individual count is organized and run by a local bird club or group. Each group determines the specific boundaries of their count circle and divides the territory into various routes to ensure the entire area is covered.

Technically, each CBC lasts 24 hours, but most people start at dawn and count through the afternoon or evening. Others make a full 24-hour day out of it. Each group approaches the CBC with its own style, but the end result is nearly always a fun day outdoors, enjoying the company of friends and winter birds while contributing to science.

Beginners are always welcome. If the only Christmas Birds you’ve counted are French hens and turtledoves, no worries—others on the count can help you out with bird identification. Every single bird is counted during a CBC, so the more eyeballs in the field, the better.

There are even opportunities for homebodies to participate as feeder watchers (ask your Count Compiler to learn more about that). The bottom line is that anybody can participate in a Christmas Bird Count, and that includes you.

How It All Started

The Christmas Bird Count started in 1900 as an alternative to the sidehunt. The sidehunt was a fairly common custom until the early part of the 20th century. It involved going out for several hours on Christmas morning and shooting every bird and animal that one came across.

Frank Chapman, one of the great early American ornithologists, started the CBC to counter the hunt. He encouraged a few friends around the country to go afield on Christmas morning and count, rather than kill.

For the first two decades, the counts grew slowly, but in the second half of the 20th century, the counts exploded in popularity. The CBC now includes more than 63,000 counters at more than 2,200 locations across the continent.

Find a CBC Near You!

The 122nd Christmas Bird Count will be held from December 14, 2021, to January 5, 2022. Your local count will occur on one day between those inclusive dates. Beginning in late fall, you can visit the CBC website to search for a circle near you. You can also contact your local bird club or state ornithological society to inquire about CBCs being held in your area. There is no required fee to participate in a CBC!

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