The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is the longest continuous and world's largest all-volunteer citizen science bird survey. The CBC was started in 1900 by renowned ornithologist Frank M. Chapman as a reaction to a tradition then commonly called the Christmas Side Hunt. The Side Hunt involved going into the field on Christmas day and shooting as many birds and other animals as possible. Teams of shooters would compare their catch, and the team with the biggest pile was the winner.
The concern of Chapman and other conservationists was that this wholesale slaughter was causing dangerous declines in songbird populations. Chapman, an officer in Audubon, proposed instead that people enjoy the outdoors by observing and counting birds rather than killing them. The CBC started small that year with only 27 counters in 13 states and two Canadian provinces. A total of 18,500 individual birds of 90 species were counted in 25 counts that first Christmas Bird Count day.
The CBC and bird conservation have a long history in our region. Of those first 23 states participating in the CBC, six were in New England, with one in Keene. There are currently three CBCs conducted in the AMAS area in Springfield, Saxtons River, and Woodstock. AMAS’s participation in the CBC dates back many years with New Year’s Eve of 1978 as the first official count for Springfield. CBCs in Saxtons River and Woodstock pre-date AMAS with December 26, 1956 and December 29, 1949, respectively, recorded as the first counts in the CBC database.
Images from local Christmas Bird Counts:
Join a CBC
So, what happens during a Bird Count and how can you participate? The objective of the CBC is to count as many individual birds and species within a predetermined 15-mile diameter circle of the count center in a single day between December 14 and January 5. Teams, usually consisting of an experienced birder and a beginner, are assigned a territory by the count coordinator at a meeting place the morning of the count. The teams then spread out, checking the hot spots in their territories and listing the birds seen or heard. At the end of the day, the teams gather at a participant's house for a final tally and warm snacks. Many eyes are required to conduct a thorough count, and level of expertise is not critical because beginners are paired with experienced counters. The CBC is a great opportunity for on-the-job training with some of the areas best birders!
The Christmas Bird Count is a wonderful experience and a great way to get into birding. It is amazing the variety and number of birds that accompany us through the winter months. The data collected are critical to the ornithological community as important shifts in populations can be tracked through the data of thousands of participants nationwide. So what are you waiting for? We would love to have you join us!
(Note: the above text was adapted from an article in The Harbinger by Michael Walsh).
Christmas Bird Counts within AMAS Region
The Christmas Bird Count database can be explored on the Audubon website. The codes for the three counts within the AMAS region are VTSP, VTSR, and VTWO.
Count Circle Maps
The Springfield count data are compiled by Hugh Putnam. He shared a spreadsheet of the 2017 and historical data with participants in the most recent count. A pdf file of the results was generated from his spreadsheet.