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Annual Christmas Bird Count Continues Despite Pandemic

Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission - Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count (CBC) enters its 121st year this December, continuing its successful annual citizen science bird count. Although the count may look different this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CBC carries on.

The nation’s longest running bird survey, the CBC is an early winter bird survey and runs from December 14 to January 5 each year. CBC founder and ornithologist, Dr. Frank Chapman, suggested the CBC as an alternative to the holiday “side hunts” that were popular at the time. Side hunt participants competed to see who could shoot the most birds in one day, with massive numbers of birds killed in each hunt. Chapman proposed that instead of hunting birds, people count them. The idea of conservation was in its early stages and Chapman and other scientists were concerned about declining bird populations. Thus, the CBC was born in December 1900.

Today, the CBC includes thousands of volunteers across the U.S., Canada, and many other countries in the Western Hemisphere. Local compilers, or trained leaders, coordinate with a state compiler to organize bird counts within a specific local area. On the assigned count day, participants count all birds they encounter within their assigned section of a 15-mile diameter circle. Some watch a bird feeder in their own yard for an hour, while others choose to spend more than 15 hours in the field. Some participants join one bird count; others join many. Birders of all ages and skill levels participate in the CBC, with beginning birders placed within a group of at least one experienced birder.

This year, the Audubon gave compilers the option of canceling their counts or holding their counts with COVID safety protocols (if local laws allow). This year’s CBCs will include wearing masks, social distancing while in the field, carpooling only among family members or social “pod” groups, no in-person compilation gatherings such as potlucks, and all activities must comply with current state and municipal COVID-19 guidelines. Audubon fully supports any compilers decision to cancel a CBC. Those unable to participate in the CBC may be interested in the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), organized by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society on President’s Day weekend each February. During this event, participants can count birds each day from their backyard and report results online.

The data collected by CBC volunteers, from the first bird count to the current count, allow Audubon researchers, conservation biologists, wildlife agencies, and other interested individuals to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America. The long-term perspective is vital for conservations, informing strategies to protect birds and their habitat, and helping identify environmental issues with implications for people as well.

To find a CBC near you, visit https://audubon.maps.arcgis.com/apps/View/index.html?appid=ac275eeb01434cedb1c5dcd0fd3fc7b4 .

Photo, top left — ANHC staff and Connecticut Audubon Society members birding at Warren Prairie Natural Area in 2019.



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