Christmas is two weeks away, and that means one thing for birders - it is time for Christmas Bird Counts. The count season is due to begin this Thursday, December 14, 2006, to January 5, 2007.
Each count aims to record every individual bird heard or seen within a defined count circle. Count circles are divided into sectors, each of which is covered by a small team. Of course, results can vary a great deal from year to year, depending on the number of participants, time spent in the field, and the weather. However, the counts can present valuable data about bird population trends over a long period of time.
Christmas Bird Counts are the longest running "citizen science" project. The first took place in New York City and 24 other places in 1900. As the Audubon page explains:
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.Since that time, CBCs have proliferated to cover almost all of North America and many places outside our continent.
The Washington, DC, count will be next Saturday, December 16. Call ANS at 301-652-9188 x10 for details on how to participate.
A full list of Christmas Bird Counts in the Maryland/DC area is available at the MOS website.
Once CBCs are complete, there are a few midwinter counts in January and February. The most ambitious is one along the length of the C&O Canal.