Christmas Bird Count Is Underway

Dec 23, 2019

The Audubon Christmas Bird Count, which is in its 120th year, is the longest running wildlife census in the world.  More than 50 volunteer groups in North Carolina help count birds during the three week event.  North Carolina is one of the top performing states to take part in the annual count. 


The Christmas Bird Count started when one of the early founders of the Audubon Society Frank Chapman proposed that people count birds to celebrate the holiday instead of hunting them. 

“There was a lot of concern about bird populations at that time,” said Lindsay Addison, a coastal biologist with Audubon North Carolina.  “Commercial hunting was driving a lot of birds to the brink of extirpation or potentially even extinction. So he [Chapman] flipped it on its side and said why don’t we go outside and count all the birds we can find, and it’s been going on ever since.”

American Oystercatcher
Credit Trudy Walden/Audubon Photography Awards / Audubon NC

This year’s Christmas Bird Count started on December 14th and will last until January 5th. Thousands of volunteers participate in the annual event, which is one of the longest running community science projects in the world.

“The Christmas Bird Count is organized by circles. The circles are 15 miles in diameter and each circle has a count coordinator and people go out into different areas of the circle and count all the birds they can find.”

According to Addison, there are over 2,500 count circles in the western hemisphere this year. The numbers from the Christmas Bird Count provide a long term data set that allows biologists, like Addision, to notice trends and explore how climate change and other factors affect bird populations and distribution.

“The Christmas Bird Count has detected that a lot of species are wintering farther north than they used to be,” said Addison.  “That’s not something you would notice if you’re just looking at a couple of years worth of data.”

Red-headed Woodpecker
Credit Kathleen Johnston/Audubon Photography Awards / Audubon NC

Last year in North Carolina, there were 53 count circles that found a total of 222 species of birds in the state.  In total, 828,389 individual birds were counted during 2018’s Christmas Bird Count. While this year’s Christmas Bird Count has already begun, Addison said it’s not too late for people to join. 

“There is about 13 count circles in the PRE listening area, and most of them have not had their count date yet,” said Addison.  “Hopefully, people who have an interest in birds will be able to get out and take advantage of the opportunity to see wintering ducks, and raptors, and shorebirds.  There are a lot of cool things to be seen.”