Back in the 19th century, what we now know as the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) was the Christmas Side Hunt. The winning hunter would be the one who brought back the most prey. So how did this hunt get to be a bird census? More importantly, how do you tell who wins?
Back then, Americans were much more interested in hunting than in conservation. However, even the most driven hunters were beginning to notice that certain bird species were in decline. In 1900, the ornithologist Frank M. Chapman (officer of the very young Audubon Society) proposed a Christmas Bird Census instead of the traditional Christmas Side Hunt. That year, twenty-seven birders all over North America counted 18,500 birds in 89 species. A new Christmas tradition had begun.
So who wins the Christmas Bird Count? You guessed it: everybody, especially the birds. CBC data, gathered by citizen scientists for over a hundred years, provides an indispensable long view of the health and distribution of bird populations all over North America.
Want to learn more, see the data archives, maybe get involved yourself? Signups begin every November, and the single-day counts take place starting a couple of weeks before Christmas. Check out the Christmas Bird Count on the Audubon website here.