Each winter, birdwatchers across the Americas don their binoculars to scour their hometowns, documenting and enjoying resident winter birds. This annual tradition, over a century old, has become a powerful tool for understanding the rise and fall of bird populations over time.
The Christmas Bird Count was created as a peaceful alternative to a traditional yuletide hunt where teams competed to kill the most animals in an afternoon. In Enosburg Falls, the participants of this “side hunt” collected a bevy of over 550 birds and mammals in 1896. In response to this tradition, founder Frank Chapman announced “a new kind of Christmas side hunt in the form of a Christmas bird-census.”
Over 120 years later, more than 60,000 birders participate in this census annually, contributing to the world’s longest-running community science project. The bird count has contributed to hundreds of scientific publications and is considered one of the 24 major indicators of climate impacts by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Christmas Bird Count is now managed by the National Audubon Society, with individual counts taking place in a three-week period from Dec. 14 to Jan. 4 each year. Each count covers a 15-mile diameter circle, and attempts to document every single bird in that circle area during a 24-hour period from midnight to midnight.
This year the Hunger Mountain Christmas Bird Count, coordinated locally by North Branch Nature Center, will take place in the Waterbury area on Sunday, Dec. 20. Anyone can help by counting birds while out walking in the neighborhood or on a local trail, or even from the comfort of their own home by tallying birds visiting backyard feeders.
To learn more or sign-up, visit northbranchnaturecenter.org/christmas-bird-count.