Vail Daily column: Christmas Bird Count: A citizen science effort | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Christmas Bird Count: A citizen science effort

A black capped chickadee, one of the more commonly seen winter birds, is one of many species you might see if you join this year's Christmas Bird Count.
Special to the Daily |

As the snow falls and the days get shorter you might find yourself thinking of hot chocolate, candy canes, perfectly wrapped presents and … binoculars? As we approach that time of year when traditions abound, there is another tradition which might not yet be upon your annual list: the Christmas Bird Count. The Christmas Bird Count is the longest running citizen science survey in the world! This year marks the 115th annual count. What began as a way to limit the birds being killed in “side hunts” during the holiday season has become one of the greatest citizen science efforts with a truly impressive and powerful data set.

Joy of Bird Watching

In 1900, ornithologist Frank Chapman proposed a new version to the annual “side hunts.” Instead of killing as many birds as possible in one day, the current practice at the time, Chapman suggested identifying and counting as many birds as possible and the Christmas Bird Count was hatched. Since its first year with only 30 birders, the Christmas Bird Count has expanded greatly and now takes place in North, Central and South America. It attracts experienced bird watchers and helps others experience the joy of bird watching for the first time.

How Count Works

Each count is assigned a circle which has a diameter of 15 miles and is covered by at least 10 volunteers. The surveyors usually split into smaller groups for efficiency. During the survey, volunteers note every different bird species observed and count the number of individuals. This data is then compiled with surveys from across North America. With 115 years of data, the Christmas Bird Count can track changes in early winter populations across North America which is invaluable to researchers interested in long-term studies. The Christmas Bird Count also provides a friendly and welcoming avenue into the fantastic hobby of bird watching.

Despite its name, the Christmas Bird Count doesn’t necessarily happen on Christmas Day. The study is conducted on one day during a three-week time period which overlaps the Christmas holiday. Last year in Colorado, a total of 201 bird species were seen during the 47 counts. Rare species such as the Costa’s hummingbird, eastern phoebe and yellow-breasted chat were all spotted during the counts last year; who knows what this years’ count has in store for those who participate?

The Eagle Valley Christmas Bird Count will cover a circle based in Eagle and will take place on Saturday, Dec. 19. Volunteers will meet at a generous volunteer’s residence in Eagle where maps and checklists will be distributed, and after the count, a delicious potluck will take place. Surveying will be done both by car and on foot. If you are interested in participating or learning more about the CBC, then please email Molly Schreiner at mollys@walkingmountains.org or call her at 970-827-9725, ext. 138.

Molly Schreiner is the school programs coordinator at Walking Mountains Science Center and this year, she is dreaming of seeing an American white pelican during the Christmas Bird Count.