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Christmas Bird Count is a Great Outing: It’s Easy and Fun to Join the Audubon Society’s 109th Annual Count

Published by Nilda Vilhauer

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The count runs from Dec. 14 through Jan. 5. Local groups usually set one day during that time to get outside, spot and identify birds and then send in the totals to the Audubon Society.

Most local groups end the day with a potluck or some other holiday party.

There is no better getaway from the holiday rush than to head outside and count birds. Most newbies are amazed at the numbers, types and beauty of their local birds.

Thousands of bird watchers in the United States, Canada and other countries join the count each year. Aububon and other researchers use the count to keep tabs on bird population trends. During the 1980s, counts showed a decline in black ducks, and conservation measures were adopted to help the birds.

Christmas Bird Count Welcomes Newbies

Many avid bird watchers started out at a Christmas Bird Count. Anyone can join a count group, and the experts will help anyone identify birds.

Beginners can log onto the Audubon website to find their local count group and the count date. Count groups follow set routes within a 15-mile diameter circle to count birds. Counters don’t have to cover the entire route.

In fact, counters can tally the birds in their own backyards or at their bird feeders – as long as the location is within the circle.

Counters count every bird that they see on that day.

The result is a good survey of bird populations in the local area each year.

Birding Books and Binoculars

Seriously addicted birders lug along binoculars and spotting scopes – along with cameras outfitted with a long telephoto lens and bird identification guides.

Beginners can do very well with an inexpensive set of binoculars and a bird guide for the state or area.

Beginners tagging along with a count group may not need to bring anything more than a thermos of coffee to share.

Binoculars are nice to have, but they’re often not needed when birds are coming to a backyard feeder.

Christmas Count Website and Fee

Counters must pay a $5 fee to the Audubon Society – unless they are 18 or younger or counting in their own backyards.

The fees go toward maintaining the Christmas Count, including counting materials, the Christmas Bird Count database and the count website.

The website is a great source for birders, and it has many beautiful photographs of birds. Any counter can send in a shot, and it may end up on the website or another Audubon Society publication.

How the Christmas Count Started

A century ago, when bird hunting was unregulated, it was a holiday tradition to go afield in groups and shoot as many birds as possible. The group that shot the most birds won.

In 1900, Frank Chapman, an American Museum of Natural History ornithologist, proposed counting birds instead of killing them.

The Audubon Society, which was founded in 1905, embraced the count, and it is now a holiday tradition – even among bird hunters.

Even today, some birders compete to see who can count the most birds, the rarest birds or birds never before seen in the area.

But the real goal is to have fun, see beautiful birds, make new friends – and help conservation efforts.

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