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Winter Birding Tradition Fuels Conservation

By Liz Purves, Canadian Christmas Bird Count Coordinator, Bird Studies Canada


Great Gray Owl Photo: Ron Ridout

Bird and winter enthusiasts across the continent are gearing up for the 118th Christmas Bird Count (CBC) season. This winter birding tradition took root in 1900, making it North America’s longest-running Citizen Science project. Each year, upwards of 2000 counts in the Western Hemisphere are conducted by volunteer groups on a day between December 14 and January 5. Last year in Canada alone, 14,000 participants counted over 3 million individual birds in nearly 500 counts across the country. Thank you to the many participants, compilers, and regional editors who make the Canadian CBC possible each year.

Young or old, novice or experienced, the CBC is for everyone, and offers diverse opportunities for participation. Some wake before sunrise and count birds in the field through to sunset, armed with several pairs of warm socks. Others prefer to tally feeder birds from the comfort of their living room with a warm mug in hand. No matter how you participate, it is all contributing to this important project for birds. Data collected by dedicated CBCers are used to study the health of winter bird populations over time, and guide conservation strategies to help birds and their habitats. For example, CBC data were used to help predict how climate change could influence distributions of North American birds in Audubon’s 2014 Birds and Climate Change Report. Many counts have been run for decades and contribute valuable local knowledge of winter birds. This year, participants and compiler of the Peterborough, Ontario CBC were recognized by the City of Peterborough for their 65 years of bird monitoring efforts. A huge thanks and congratulations to both the long-standing and new CBCs on their accomplishments for birds thus far!

The Christmas Bird Count is considered a winter highlight for many people. The count is a great way to bring friends and family together for a day outside or to meet fellow bird and nature enthusiasts in your community. Whether it’s admiring a Great Gray Owl at sunset with your child, spotting a seasonally-rare, lingering migrant to boast about later, or celebrating the triumphs (and tribulations) of the day with other participants at an end-of-count-day potluck, CBCers always have memorable stories to tell. You can read the summaries for Canada and its regions from last year’s count on Audubon’s website.

Are you interested in joining the CBC flock? Visit Bird Studies Canada’s website to find a count near you. If you’d like to start a new count in your area, contact Liz Purves, Canadian Christmas Bird Count Coordinator, at cbc@birdscanada.org.

However you participate, don’t forget to take pictures! For the first time, we’ll be running a CBC photo contest. Submit a photo of your favourite moment from the 118th CBC to cbc@birdscanada.org to enter a random draw for a prize, which will occur after the count period (prize TBA).

Bird Studies Canada relies on donations to make the Christmas Bird Count possible in Canada. Your generous gift supports national coordination, data collection, and analysis – and you’ll receive a charitable tax receipt. Please donate online or mail a cheque to Bird Studies Canada with a note that the funds are for the Christmas Bird Count. We appreciate your support!

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