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Christmas Bird Count FAQ

1. What is the Christmas Bird Count?

The Christmas Bird Count is a long-standing program of the National Audubon Society. It is an early-winter bird census, where volunteers follow specified routes through a designated 15-mile (24-km) diameter circle, counting every bird they see or hear all day. It’s not just a species tally—all birds are counted all day, giving an indication of the total number of birds in the circle that day. All individual CBC’s are conducted in the period from 14 December to 5 January (inclusive dates) each season, and each count is conducted in one calendar day.

2. Why was the Christmas Bird Count started?

The first CBC was done on Christmas Day of 1900 as an alternative activity to an event called the “side hunt” where people chose sides, then went out and shot as many birds as they could. The group that came in with the largest number of dead birds won the event. Frank Chapman, a famed ornithologist at the American Museum of Natural History and the editor of "Bird-Lore" (which became the publication of the National Association of Audubon Societies when that organization formed in 1905) recognized that declining bird populations could not withstand wanton over-hunting, and proposed to count birds on Christmas Day rather than shoot them.

3. Will I be doing this by myself, and do I have to be an experienced birder?

CBC participants are organized into groups—or field parties—by the organizer or Compiler of each Count. Each field party covers a specific area of the 15-mile diameter circle on a specific route. And anyone is welcome to participate, since Compilers arrange field parties so that inexperienced observers are always out with seasoned CBC veterans.

4. Do I have to join a field party, or can I count the birds at my feeder?

As long as you live within a designated CBC circle, you are welcome to count the birds at your feeder. All you’ll need to do is contact your local Compiler so that you may report your results on the Count Day. Please do so before the CBC period, which is 14 December through 5 January every season, by selecting “Get Involved” from the CBC home page at www.audubon.org/bird/cbc.

5. Can I do a Christmas Bird Count on my own?

No. Since each CBC is a real census, and since the 15-mile diameter circle contains a lot of area to be covered, single-observer counts (except in unusual circumstances) cannot be allowed. To join a CBC please contact a compiler by selecting “Get Involved” from the CBC home page at www.audubon.org/bird/cbc.

6. Is the Christmas Bird Count useful?

Absolutely. The data collected by observers over the past century allow researchers, conservation biologists, and interested individuals to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America. In the 1980s CBC data were used to document the decline of wintering populations of the American Black Duck, after which conservation measures were put into effect to reduce hunting pressure on this species.

7. Is there a cost?

No!

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