Vail Daily column: All are welcome at the 2016 Christmas Bird Count | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: All are welcome at the 2016 Christmas Bird Count

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 CBC is the longest running Citizen Science survey in the world. This year marks the 117th 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.

In 1900, ornithologist Frank Chapman proposed a new version to the annual Christmas "side hunts." Instead of killing as many birds as possible in one day, the tradition at the time, Chapman suggested identifying and counting as many birds as possible. The Christmas Bird Count was hatched. Since its first year with fewer than 30 birders, the CBC 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.

Each count is assigned a circle which has a diameter of 15 miles and is covered by groups of volunteers that each take a section of the circle. 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 over a century of data, the CBC can track changes in early winter populations across North America which is invaluable to researchers interested in long-term studies. The CBC also provides a friendly and welcoming avenue into the fantastic hobby of bird watching. Organizers of the CBC will pair less experienced people with those who've spent a lot of time behind binoculars.

Despite its name, the CBC 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 205 bird species were seen during the 48 counts. The Eagle Valley Circle saw 35 Ring-necked ducks, the first time that species had been observed during the count. Rare and unusual species spotted throughout Colorado included Pacific Loons, American Woodcocks and Eastern Bluebirds. Who knows what this year's count has in store for those who participate?

The Eagle Valley CBC will cover two circles based in Eagle and Dotsero and will take place on Saturday. 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. New to birding, or just need to brush up on your skills? Walking Mountains, in partnership with the newly formed Eagle Valley Birding Society, will be offering a Birding 101 course on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. Learn the basics to bird identification, which birds you will most likely spot during the CBC, and meet local birding fanatics eager to have you join us.

To participate or learn more about the CBC, please visit http://www.walkingmountains.org/project/christmas-bird-count/.

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Hannah Irwin is the community programs manager at Walking Mountains Science Center and she can't wait to find out how many raptors she'll see at this year's Christmas Bird Count.