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Christmas Bird Count Allows Bird Buffs to Collect Valuable Data—and Have Tons of Fun

The annual Christmas Bird Count will take place Dec. 14 through Jan. 5.

Bird lovers who want to do more for their feathered friends need look no further: The Christmas Bird Count is here, and Wild Birds Unlimited is here to help. 

The Christmas Bird Count, which goes back 120 years, is the longest-running citizen science bird project in the U.S. It is hosted annually by the National Audubon Society and runs from Dec. 14 through Jan. 5. 

During the Christmas Bird Count, bird lovers around the country gather in designated areas to watch birds and count the different species they see. An official compiler gathers the information from a 15-mile diameter—seven-and-a-half miles every way—and submits it to the National Audubon Society. 

Bird lovers can easily participate in the Christmas Bird Count by attending watch parties at their local Audubon Society chapter and signing up to be a bird counter. If a bird lover is going on vacation, they can participate in bird counting efforts at their destination. 

Wild Birds Unlimited Chief Naturalist John Schaust is the National Audubon Society’s compiler for Northeast Indianapolis , a role he’s held for 10 years. He has been participating in the Christmas Bird Count since the late 1970s. The activity runs in the family: His son is the compiler for the northwestern portion of Indianapolis. 

Schaust’s bird counting group typically has 30 to 35 people. A couple of days before the count, he will put teams together of three to seven people and the teams will head out to count birds in the areas they’ve been assigned to, such as parks, airports and natural habitats in the area. 

“The people in my count teams and I will gather at a local restaurant to trade notes and see how the morning went and decide where to go for the afternoon,” he said. “We just have a lot of fun. You’re not just counting birds on your own. You’re with people who, like you, are into birds and nature and having a great time.”

Not only is participating in the Christmas Bird Count a great deal of fun, but it’s also one of the Seven Simple Actions to Help Birds. It’s also an ideal activity for families. 

“The Christmas Bird Count is a big tradition for a lot of families,” Schaust said. “Families of all ages can participate in the Christmas Bird Count. It’s a great way to kick off the holidays.” 

Data compiled during the Christmas Bird Count helps biologists see trends related to birds year after year—and has even appeared in scientific, peer-reviewed articles, Schaust said. The data compiled also helps the National Audubon Society’s work throughout the rest of the year.

“That data helps influence management decisions and policies related to birds,” Schaust said. “Bird watchers can look at data from past decades. This will be my count circle’s 109th year participating in the Christmas Bird Count, which means I can look at data from the 40s, the 30s and even the 20s.” 

Thanks to information provided by the Christmas Bird Count, Schaust and his fellow ornithologists have seen changes in population and movement trends related to birds such as robins, cardinals and eastern meadowlarks. 

“The Christmas Bird Count just gives you some really good comparative data,” he said. “It’s citizen science, not absolute hard science, but it’s still pretty good and allows you to see trends.”

With its promise of fun, not to mention a chance to make a contribution to science, the Christmas Bird Count is a great start to the holiday season—and the perfect opportunity to bring people and nature together.

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