The Christmas Bird Count

– a Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Just when I thought I was wrapped up counting birds last winter in my Christmas Bird Count (CBC) territory, after seemingly chasing only European House Sparrows from alley to alley in urban North Fargo, I decided to look up just a couple more pine trees for some kind of owl. There it was, a ghostly pale Great Horned Owl. It was dozing in a pine tree of a family's house where a nice lady was baking Christmas goodies. She saw me standing on the sidewalk and had a look. It absolutely made her day. This owl is by no means rare, but it was a special bird for me. These kinds of stories abound during the CBC when having another look for five more minutes might pay off for a new bird on your list, the team's list, or just a memorable moment for yourself.

A quick overview of the Christmas Bird Count starts with it being an annual census of birds in the Western Hemisphere held during the second half of December into early January. There are geographic count circles where you count birds within, led and organized by volunteers. Some choose to go on foot to find birds, while others choose a vehicle, and most use some combination of both. The idea is to canvas your assigned area as broadly and in-depth as possible to find the greatest number of species and the count per species that you see. There is a count day, wherefrom the wee hours of the morning until well into the darkness of night, the goal is to find and count bird species. There is also a count week, where you can find additional bird species that may have escaped you during the count day.

The CBC is a highlight of the birding year for me, and here are just a few of the reasons why:

  • A great community builder.
  • The spirit of adventure that is found in charting a course through your territory to leave no bird unfound.
  • Finding rare birds takes on a whole new meaning in the middle of winter in the Northern Plains when a large group of birders are looking.
  • Waking up at 4 am to sit outside in 0F weather waiting to hear an owl hoot.
  • The evening get-together where we go through each list and review all the findings.
  • The count history in each circle, where we have records of species and the total count for many years. It puts birding into a new perspective for me.

The Christmas Bird Count is a fantastic time of year. If you haven’t had a chance to participate, perhaps this will be the year. No matter where you are located there is likely a count circle near you. The more volunteers each circle has the more eyes and binoculars are looking for birds. The more binoculars looking for birds, the more likely there is the chance of seeing more and diverse birds. The more we count these birds during CBC, the more we know about them as a species and what they mean to our count circle, and our count circle to them.

Grant Mehring, Audubon Dakota Board Member

How you can help, right now