Can You Count Birds?

Every year, for 123 years now, the National Audubon Society organizes the Christmas Bird Count. And this year, the event will be held from December 14, 2022 to January 5, 2023.

Bird observation is a natural thing to do when you love gardens and forests. Image: Unsplash.

First held in 1900, it remains one of the largest citizen science programs in North America. Yes, anyone can participate. Even you! Personally, I love citizen science because it allows us to contribute to science without having a master’s degree as a prerequisite!

What is the Christmas Bird Count?

It all started with Frank Chapman and about twenty other conservationists. The goal of this project was to demonstrate that conservation could be done through observation, rather than hunting. Sounds obvious now, but it wasn’t so in 1900!

It’s a winter census where thousands of citizens count the birds for 24 consecutive hours, on a precise day. The Christmas Bird Count is wonderfully organized. The objective is to do the census of the birds inside a circle of 15 miles (24 km) in diameter. Each circle is overseen by a compiler who will collect all the data from his sector. It is this compiler who sets the date of the observations for his sector. To participate, you must count the birds only for the day indicated within that circle! Some birding circles have existed since the beginning of the project and others have since been added, bringing the event to more than 20 countries.

The Blue Jay is easy to observe. A good one to count, for beginners. Image: Pixabay.

How to Participate in the Christmas Bird Count

As you see, the Christmas Bird Count is a scientific project and there is a minimum of methodology to respect in order to participate.

Step 1 — Find your Circle and Contact the Compiler

First, you’ll have to consult the map to find a circle within which you wish to make your observations. If your home is in a circle, you can count birds from the comfort of your own home (if the compiler authorizes it)! You can even decide to make observations with friends or at your cabin… if the site is in a circle! You can even decide to go bird-watching in another area.

Once the sector has been determined, the compiler of that sector is contacted. You’ll find his email address by clicking on the circle that interests you. Yes, it’s as simple as that! You simply send an email to the compiler to let him know of your interest.

Step 2 – Commit, They Say!

The compiler will contact you and give you all the instructions, information on the data to be collected and sometimes they’ll give you a territory or a circuit to travel. It’s not possible to make your own observations and then send them to the compiler, because the census also collects other data such as the times of observations, the distance traveled or the means of transport used. Generally, if this is your first time, you’ll be paired with an expert who will teach you the proper way to count birds. This is a great opportunity to learn a lot about bird watching.

Step 3 – How Much Do You Need to Know About Birds?

And that’s the beauty of it! If your knowledge of birds is limited to house sparrows, count only house sparrows! The important thing for each count is to be sure that your house sparrow is indeed a house sparrow. You’re hesitating… maybe it’s a song sparrow? Don’t count it!

The census is a fabulous day to get out the identification guides, in order to add to your list a new species or two that you didn’t know before. Prepare for your outing by studying the birds that spend the winter in your area. Practice your sightings in your backyard, books opened on the table, binoculars in hand.

Black cap, white cheek and black throat, the Black-capped chickadee is a familiar bird, around houses as well as in the woods. Image: Unsplash.

Having spent the past two years taking a more serious interest in birdwatching, I can guarantee you’ll make discoveries. When you take the time to look for birds… you find incredible things (I’m thinking of you, little bay-breasted warbler)!

My adorable Bay-breasted warbler! Unfortunately, like many warblers, this one flies south of Quebec province for the winter. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

All the data is then collected by the compiler which then transfers it to the Audubon Society. Over the years, this data has revealed trends in the movement of bird populations. For example, in 2021, researchers revealed that in the last 50 years, 16 species of ducks are wintering further and further north due to temperature changes linked to climate change. In short, it’s a great opportunity to take the time, to be outside, to learn and above all to contribute to science!

Julie Boudreau is a horticulturist who trained at the Institut de technologie agroalimentaire in Saint-Hyacinthe, Québec. She’s been working with plants for more than 25 years. She has published many gardening books and hosted various radio and television shows. She now teaches horticulture at the Centre de formation horticole of Laval. A great gardening enthusiast, she’s devoted to promoting gardening, garden design, botany and ecology in every form. Born a fan of organic gardening, she’s curious and cultivates a passion for all that can be eaten. Julie Boudreau is “epicurious” and also fascinated by Latin names.

3 comments on “Can You Count Birds?

  1. The Christmas bird count really ended well. I look forward to next year when it will explode even more

  2. Hey Julie, is there any budget-y binoculars you would recommend for bird watching? There are a few good Zeiss and Vortex models at nearby outdoors store but not sure if it’s going to be good enough quality. Which one are you using currently?
    Thanks in advance, Jim

  3. Debbie korell

    Maybe a link or a website to find the map would be useful

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