It’s time to register for the Christmas Bird Count

Christmas Bird Count
Birders during the 2015 Christmas Bird Count in Central Park, New York City. Photo by Camilla Cerea/Audubon

For the 120th year, the National Audubon Society is organizing its annual Christmas Bird Count. Between December 14 and January 5, tens of thousands of volunteer birdwatchers will participate in counts across the Western Hemisphere. The 12 decades’ worth of data collected by participants continue to contribute to one of only two large existing pools of information notifying ornithologists and conservation biologists about what conservation action is required to protect birds and the places they need.

Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count is one of the longest-running wildlife censuses in the world. Each individual count takes place in a 15-mile-wide circle and is led by a compiler responsible for organizing volunteers and submitting observations directly to Audubon. Within each circle, participants tally all birds seen or heard that day — not just the species but total numbers to provide a clear idea of the health of that particular population.

“The Christmas Bird Count is a great tradition and opportunity for everyone to be a part of 120 years of ongoing community science,” said Geoff LeBaron, Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count director, who first started leading the community science effort in 1987. “Adding your observations to 12 decades of data helps scientists and conservationists discover trends that make our work more impactful. Participating in the Christmas Bird Count is a fun and meaningful way to spend a winter for anyone and everyone.”

Long-term perspective

A young CBC participant shows a drawing of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker that she spotted in Central Park. Photo by Camilla Cerea/Audubon

When combined with other surveys such as the Breeding Bird Survey, Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count provides a picture of how the continent’s bird populations have changed in time and space over the past hundred years. The long-term perspective is vital for conservationists. It informs strategies to protect birds and their habitat and helps identify environmental issues with implications for people as well. For example, earlier this year, Science published a study using decades of Audubon Christmas Bird Count data to describe a grim picture: a steady decline of nearly three billion North American birds since 1970, primarily as a result of human activities. Christmas Bird Count data have been used in more than 300 peer-reviewed articles.

A brand-new feature this year will be “CBC Live,” a crowd-sourced, hemisphere-wide storytelling function using Esri mapping software. This “story-map” will ask users to upload a photo taken during their Christmas Bird Count as well as a short anecdote to paint a global picture of the CBC in real time.

Last year, the 119th Christmas Bird Count included a record-setting 2,615 count circles, with 1,975 counts in the United States, 460 in Canada, and 180 in Latin America, the Caribbean, Bermuda, and the Pacific Islands. This was the ninth-straight year of record-breaking counts. In total, 79,425 observers out in the field and watching feeders tallied up over 48 million birds representing more than 2,600 species — more than one-quarter of the world’s known avifauna. Approximately 5 percent of the North American landmass was surveyed by the Christmas Bird Count. Last year included two new species for the Christmas Bird Count list of birds seen in the United States: a Little Stint in San Diego and a Great Black Hawk in Portland, Maine. To observe the trends of any particular species over the last 12 decades, please take a look here.

How to sign up

To sign up for a Christmas Bird Count and ensure your bird count data make it into the official Audubon database, please find the circle nearest you and register with your local Christmas Bird Count compiler on this map here. All Christmas Bird Count data must be submitted through the official compiler to be added to the long-running census.

The Audubon Christmas Bird Count is a community science project organized by the National Audubon Society. There is no fee to participate. Counts are open to birders of all skill levels and Audubon’s free Bird Guide app makes it even easier to learn more. For more information and to find a count near you visit www.christmasbirdcount.org.

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