‘Tis the Season for Counting Birds

This year will probably be my third year doing the Christmas Bird Count. That is, if I can get on a team in a circle. Yesterday was the first day that registration for the Christmas Bird Count officially started. However, many of us who have done it before have already marked a date and talked to a compiler about getting a spot on a team for their circle. The compiler is a person who is in charge of the teams in a circle, collects all the counts and lists, and compiles them into a single result.

The Christmas Bird Count started 114 years ago when Frank Chapman, an officer in the newly formed Audubon Society, proposed an idea to count birds instead of shoot them. Before then, the tradition was to have a shooting contest where just about every living thing seen was obliterated and those who had the highest number of dead animals and birds won. With many birds and animals rapidly becoming extinct at that time, it was thought that counting them was better than killing them. Since then, it has caught on and expanded throughout the country with thousands of volunteers.

When I participated in the Christmas Bird Count in the past, I was assigned a team a section of a “circle”, which is a specific area with a 15 mile radius. Teams are usually made up of about three people, but sometimes there might be more, especially if many people are beginners. The first time I counted, I was on a team of three, but last year, I was part of a large group. One person in the group or team keeps the official count. Counting usually takes at least half the day with lunch is served and there is a “reading of the lists” where a list of birds is read and each team says whether or not they had that bird in their section. After lunch, there is an opportunity to continue counting, but it is voluntary. The first year I did the count, we found a record number of bird species in San Diego County. I think, last year, we broke that record.

The Christmas Bird Count usually takes place from December 14th until January 5th. Most counts take place on weekends, but a few of them happen on a weekday depending on what area you want to count in. You don’t have to live in the area you want to count. There’s even a count going on in Yosemite National Park, for example. The best place to find out where and when the counts are is by looking at the CBC website. Next step is to contact a compiler. Be sure to wear appropriate shoes and clothing for your area, binoculars and/or a scope, and bring snacks and water. Lunch is usually provided free.

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