Become a Citizen Scientist: Embrace the Christmas Bird Count Tradition

The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is a beautiful way for groups of individuals, families, and friends to get outside over the upcoming holidays and participate as citizen scientists by counting birds. According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, “the CBC is one of the world’s oldest and longest-running citizen science programs organized into circles.” Each circle counts as many birds as possible within 24 hours in a pre-determined 15-mile radius location or even in one’s backyard, coordinating with a CBC count compiler. 

Frank Chapman is known as the Dean of ornithology, early Bird Guide writer, birder by heart, and creator of the CBC. With Chapman’s help, the Christmas Bird Count has been a long tradition with the Audubon Society, marking its debut in 25 locations from California to Canada on Christmas Day of 1900. Counting birds was introduced to replace individuals competitively hunting birds on Christmas. 

Counting birds was introduced to replace individuals competitively hunting birds on Christmas.  

You, as a community citizen scientist, can learn so much more about birds and, at the same time, help scientists use the data collected to determine long-term bird trends, education, and the effects of climate change — as well as learn about the state of birds in your area and around the world.

Citizen Scientist Christmas Bird Count
Here are suggestions from the Audubon Society on how to successfully participate in the Christmas Bird Count.
  • Get excited; no matter your birding level, you do not have to be an expert. The program is free. 
  • Sign up for an existing CBC circle. To locate a circle near you, click here. Green and yellow circles are open for new volunteers, and red circles are full. Contact the compiler by email before the count day using the information from the circle pop-ups on the map. 
  • On your selected Christmas Bird Count day, be prepared with binoculars, weather-appropriate clothing and shoes, a drink, a snack, and transportation to your 15-mile-diameter circle. Counting is even easier and more convenient if your backyard feeder is within the circle.
  •  Follow specified routes through a designated 15-mile (24-km) diameter circle, counting every bird seen or heard daily. It’s not just a species tally—all birds are calculated daily, indicating the total number of birds in the circle that day.
  • Sign up for American Birds to learn more about the bird count and other programs that may be featured to continue your new adventure as a birding citizen scientist.  
  • Upload your bird photos and view postings and pictures of other volunteers through the CBC Live Tracker.  

Have fun! 

Yvonne Dwyer OPL Master Naturalist and OPL Content Contributor

This experience was shared by OPL Naturalist Yvonne Dwyer.

Learn more about Yvonne.