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Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count is a fun and rewarding way to contribute to science

In the United States alone, there are about 20 billion birds during the fall migratory season. That’s billion with a b. So, how do scientists and ornithologists count all these birds, look for trends and learn new things about populations? The answer is you!

It’s impossible for a small group of scientists or even all the ornithologists in the world to go out and take a serious count of all the birds in the Americas for scientific purposes. There are simply too many birds to make any accurate conclusions based off the findings of a few people, which is why they turn to the average citizen.

If you’re into birding at all or follow any birding blogs, chances are you’ve been hearing a lot about Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count. For more than a century, both expert and amateur birders have willingly trekked outside in the cold winter weather for the sake of science. In fact, the CBC is one of the oldest examples of crowd-science and the longest-running wildlife census in the world. Each year, tens of thousands of volunteers head outdoors to count as many birds as they see within an area.

Here’s more from David Yarnold, the president of the National Audubon Society:

From the Arctic Circle to New Orleans to South America, these volunteers take part in 2,000-plus “count circles” with passion and commitment; they know they belong to an army that has made a difference since 1900. They are among the millions of community heroes who act when Congress won’t, who take conservation personally, and who teach their kids that individual action matters. If that all sounds pretty inspiring, it is.

From Dec. 14 to Jan. 5, these crowd-scientists will provide the information that scientists need to understand how environmental changes are affecting birds. The data they gather help land-use planners avoid disturbing precious breeding grounds. Just three months ago, the two major Eastern power grid coalitions agreed to factor this data in as decisions are made about where to put new mega-power lines.

The Christmas Bird Count is important because it helps jumpstart conservation for birds whose population is declining and the only way to find this data is to count them. Once the CBC is over and the data comes out, I’ll post some of the interesting findings onto this blog.

So, if you haven’t participated yet, the great thing about the CBC is it’s happening all over the country and chances are there are counts close to you. It costs $5 to help out and you can find locations at Audubon’s website.

This could be a great learning opportunity for you, your children or grandchildren to go out and participate with thousands of other enthusiasts and contribute something tangible to the world of science. If you haven’t already done so, sign up and count some birds before Jan. 5.

Timothy Martinez Jr. is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Remapping Debate in New York City and other publications. He’s been a bird lover since he was young and currently lives in New Orleans, L.A.


  1. […] and feel like they are really giving back. If you need more reasons why you should participate, check out my post from last year’s […]

  2. This is very interesting. Thanks for your informal assessment. Is it getting pretty cold in your area? Cardinals usually form flocks when it starts getting cold, especially in December and January. It’s also easier for them to fend off predators when flocking together. Spring is when they are usually on their own.

  3. Can’t participate formally in the Christmas bird count because of health. I did want to comment on the early advent here in North Texas (Arlington) of goldfinches, which have been here for a month already, in numbers. We don’t usually see them until right about now (Christmas). We feed nothing but black sunflower seeds, and provide water. Our location is in the center of the DFW metroplex, a shrub- and tree-filled suburban lot. Our birds are almost entirely just a few species: northern cardinals; house finches; chickadees; English sparrows; goldfinches; whitewing doves. In the area are bluejays, crows, grackles, mockingbirds, Carolina wrens, tufted titmice. Cardinals, whitewing doves, and house finches especially are thriving. Our cardinal flock includes seven adult birds. I don’t remember ever seeing a cardinal flock of this size before, as they aren’t generally flocking birds.

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