A Tale of Two Bird Counts

Across the United States, and even in some other countries, each Christmas season birders spend a day out on a Christmas Bird Count, the original citizen science effort, counting birds seen in a single day.

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

The Christmas Bird Count had its origins in an effort to move away from Christmas bird hunts, an annual slaughter of songbirds. In 1900, U.S. ornithologist Frank Chapman, founder of Bird-Lore (which became Audubon Magazine), proposed counting birds on Christmas instead of killing them. That year, 27 observers took part in the first count in 25 places in the United States and Canada, 15 of them in the northeastern U.S., from Massachusetts to Philadelphia. Since then the counts have been held every winter. During the 2014 count, there were 72,653 birders, with 62,211 in the field and 10,442 watching feeders.

Mountain Chickadee

Mountain Chickadee

WC had participated in the Fairbanks Christmas Bird Count for many years, and occasionally in Anchorage and Denali. In a very good year, a Christmas Bird Count in Fairbanks might get 25-29 species. In some years, far fewer. But it was fun, got you outside during the brief hours of daylight, and the potluck afterwards to total up the effort’s birds (the “Tally Rally”) was always fun.

This year WC and Mrs. WC participated in our first Boise Christmas Bird Count. The count lasts a lot longer – there’s about 10 hours of useful light – as opposed to the 4.5 – 5.0 hours in Fairbanks that near the solstice. We birded in drizzle and rain, a much different set of conditions than your typical Fairbanks winter weather. Our assigned census area – along the Boise River Greenbelt, for the most part – netted us 41 species. If you’re keeping track, that’s half again as many as all observers saw in Fairbanks in 2014. Only a handful were species you might see in Fairbanks: Common Raven, Black-capped Chickadee and Mallard. Boise birds WC saw included everything from big Bald Eagles down to tiny Ruby-crowned Kinglets. The combined efforts of all birders in the Boise count netted 98 species, about four times as many as your typical Fairbanks count.


Hooded Merganser

We got some very cool birds, wandering around in the drizzle. White-breasted and Red-breasted Nuthatches, Brown Creepers, Red-tailed Hawks and American Kestrels, hundreds of Canada Geese, Ring-billed and California Gulls and a very cool Western Screech-Owl. And met some very nice people. The data from the Boise count and the 2,639 other bird counts goes into a permanent database that help ornithologists monitor bird populations.

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco

You can participate in a Chirstmas Bird Count, even if you don’t know a Chickadee from a Redpoll. Your local Audubon chapter will hook you up with a more experienced birder and help you learn the skills. They aren’t that hard; if WC can become a birder, pretty much anyone can. If you are in Fairbanks, contact Arctic Audubon and participate in their January 2, 2016 Christmas Bird Count.

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

Because of the rain, WC didn’t lug his camera long. But all of the photos in this post were taken in the Boise area in 2015.

Oh, and Happy Winter Solstice, everyone.


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