It's a New Day

December 2019

Vol. 47, No. 6

Musings from the Blind Birder: Christmas Bird Counts: Citizen Science at its Best

Martha Steele

Birding in December is virtually synonymous with the Christmas Bird Count (CBC). The origin of CBCs rests with Frank Chapman, who suggested in 1900 that birds be counted on Christmas Day instead of shot as was done in a holiday sporting tradition popular at that time. Thus, the first CBC was held in 1900 in 25 locations in the United States and Canada, with Massachusetts sites including Belmont, Fresh Pond in Cambridge, the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, and Mystic Pond in Winchester (Greater Akron Audubon Society 2018). Twenty-seven participants tallied a total of around 90 species (National Audubon Society 2018). This contrasts with the most recently available count summary, 2017–2018, in which there were 2,585 counts across the Americas, the Caribbean, and Pacific Islands with nearly 77,000 participants and over 2,600 species (LeBaron 2018). It is perhaps the longest and arguably greatest example of citizen science in the world, with people of all walks of life contributing data that provide information on bird population trends and guide conservation efforts.

Such lofty goals and aspirations may be far from your mind when you are standing in early morning hours in bitter cold or raw, wet conditions to count your beloved Canada Geese, European Starlings, or House Sparrows. December 14 to January 5, the official count period, is, after all, likely to be chilly in New England. No matter how warmly you may dress, or how many layers you take off and on as you get into and out of a warm car while covering as much territory as you can, you will eventually be so chilled as to swear at this ridiculous exercise.

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