The Christmas Bird Count Has Been A Tradition Among Birders Since 1900.
Christmas and tradition go hand in hand, and that goes for the outdoor community as well. One of the oldest of these traditions is the annual Christmas bird count.
Started in 1900 by the Audobon Society's Frank Chapman, the count has since become the longest running citizen science survey in the world. Chapman began the survey to replace a yearly bird hunt, turning that tradition into a kinder, gentler effort.
David Gordon, President of the Buffalo Audubon Society, explains, "Instead of holding what was called the side hunt, which was an annual Christmas event where people would go out with their guns and whoever shot the most birds was deemed the most successful, he decided at the time to count the birds instead. So 25 count circles, which are 15 miles in diameter were established, and 27 people covered those count circles, and that became the first Christmas bird count."
Early on, Western New York enthusiasm shined through, as Buffalonians flocked to assist the newly established census. Says Gordon, "There's ten count circles here, one of them, by the Buffalo Ornithological Society, actually here in Delaware Park, that's part of our count circle, has been going on since 1909, continuously, with just a few years off for World War I."
The count is not just about watching a few birds. The data collected is used in many different ways. One of the most important is to monitor avian health, as birds are a bellwether for the environment as a whole, the proverbial "Canary in a coal mine" for the health of the planet. That's why the Environmental Protection Agency has listed bird behavior as an indicator of climate change. Gordon tells 2 The Outdoors, "There are 24 indicators that the EPA uses to determine climate shift, and the Christmas bird count data is one of them. Any Ornithologist doing serious work would always want to consult this data because it does extend for such a long period of time."
The Christmas bird count is vast, encompassing all 50 states in the U.S., all of Canada, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands. Last year over 62,000 people tallied over 60 million birds. Volunteers are crucial to the count, but not everyone is out in the field. Many volunteers add to the count observing bird feeders from the warmth of their own homes. Gordon explains, "People who are entering the count as feeder watchers, they're very valuable because they are giving vision to areas that can't be seen by the public driving down the street looking for birds in parks and things like this because it's private property. So we're really happy when people volunteer to watch their feeders for some portion of the day on count day. "
The counters take their responsibility very seriously, and depending on the weather, counting birds this time of year can be quite difficult. But all that hard work often brings these " birds of a feather " much closer together. " You look forward to getting with that group", says Gordon, "and counting and going to get some coffee, many of the counts end the day with pot luck or serving some chili, or people get together and have a party."
In Western New York, one need not wait until Christmas, the birding is great year round. "This is probably one of the top locations to live in if you're interested in birding, if you're a birder, Western New York is one of the top places. There's always something to see no matter what time of year it is."
If you're interested in taking part in the Christmas bird count, there's still time to volunteer, the count runs from December 14th through January 5th. To volunteer, go to the Audubon Society website at www.audubon.org