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Audubon Christmas Bird Count signup has begun

Audubon Christmas Bird Count: Black, white and gray bird in flight.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Lorraine Boyd of Fort Edward, New York, captured this image on November 15, 2023. She wrote: “A female common merganser taking off with several others that she had been floating & diving (with a small leap) for fish with. It’s interesting how they have serrated edges along their bills to help catch and hold their favorite food, fish. For this reason, common mergansers are in a group of birds referred to as ‘sawbills.'” Thank you, Lorraine! Find out how to join the Audubon Christmas Bird Count below.

The Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count is one of the longest-running citizen science projects. It had a modest beginning on Christmas Day in 1900. And it’s since become a strong data-gathering project to study bird population trends. This year’s count – the 124th – runs from December 14, 2023, to January 5, 2024. You have to sign up in advance, and the signup has already begun. Go here to sign up for the Christmas Bird Count 2023.

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Audubon Christmas Bird Count – how it’s done

The Christmas Bird Count is a carefully run event. Each count site is a 15-mile (24-km) wide circle; you can see what it looks like by zooming in on this map to inspect a region near you. Counts for each circle are organized by a “circle compiler.” On the day of the count (set by the circle’s compiler), people head out to designated routes within a circle to count every species and number of birds that they see and hear during the day. And, if you live within the range of a count site, you can also tally the birds you see in your yard and at the feeder.

Close-up of a blue heron perched on a tree limb.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Nina Gorenstein of West Lafayette, Indiana, captured this image of a blue heron on November 16, 2023. Thank you, Nina!

To participate in the count – it’s free – you need to sign up with a local circle compiler at the Audubon’s website. If you’re a beginning birder, you’ll be matched up with a more experienced birder. Make sure you register early, because the compiler will need time to organize the event.

In addition, you can share your bird count photographs and experiences on social media with the hashtag #ChristmasBirdCount. We here at EarthSky would love to have you send us your photographs, too!

Audubon Christmas Bird Count history

In some parts of the U.S., there used to be bird-hunting competitions on Christmas Day. However, Frank M. Chapman, an ornithologist at the American Museum of Natural History, came up with an alternative, an activity to count birds in a given area each Christmas to build up a record of their numbers.

That first count was in 1900. Overall, 27 birders conducted counts at 25 sites, tallying about 89 bird species.

Since then, the Christmas Bird Count has come a long way. It’s continued annually since the inaugural event, growing in volunteers and census sites. For instance, the 121st Christmas Bird Count took place from December 14, 2020, to January 5, 2021. That count occurred at 2,459 locations, with 72,815 volunteers in the U.S., Canada, Latin America, the Caribbean and Pacific Islands. Altogether, volunteers observed a total of 2,355 bird species.

Oriental Honey-Buzzard perched on some sort of ledge.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Kannan A of Singapore captured this image on October 30, 2023, and wrote: “The Oriental honey-buzzard (Pernis ptilorhyncus), one of the most common migrant raptors in Singapore belonging to the Family Accipitridae spotted this morning! Every year I notice the same bird flying to my area since 2018 and I believe it is the same bird as it is the only one that I have seen.” Thank you, Kannan!

What have we learned from these counts?

Additionally, Audubon and other research groups use Christmas Bird Count data to monitor population trends that will help guide conservation efforts. To date, scientists have published more than 300 peer-reviewed studies based on this data. The data is also used by federal agencies to craft policy on bird conservation.

Each annual count provides a snapshot of the birds at a given time and place. It’s hard to draw conclusions from one year to the next, because changes happen gradually. To understand trends, scientists do a statistical analysis of data taken over several years.

Warning signs of environmental degradation show up in declines of bird populations in some types of habitats. For instance, the sharpest declines in bird populations have been in grassland habitats, followed by coastal habitats.

Bird census data also informs scientists about the effects of climate change on wildlife. In a 2014 report, National Audubon predicted how the ranges of 588 species of birds in North America could be affected by climate change. They concluded that more than 314 species could lose over 50% of their current climatic range by 2080.

Bottom line: Audubon’s 124th Christmas Bird Count will take place from December 14, 2023, to January 5, 2024. You can join in to help collect important data about birds. Find out how to join in the Audubon Christmas Bird Count.

December 3, 2023

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