It’s that time of year again! Between December 14 and January 5, the National Audubon Society holds the annual Christmas Bird Count, when birders from all flights of life dedicate one day to becoming citizen scientists. The great thing about the Christmas Bird Count is that anyone can participate. Are you are an experienced ornithologist? Or have you just hatched – so to speak – into the world of bird watching? Whatever your experience, you will be welcomed by the other volunteers
CHRISTMAS BIRD COUNT RULES
The National Audubon Society considers the Christmas Bird Count a scientific study, and as with any scientific research, there are rules and guidelines that should be followed. Be sure to read the Compiler’s Manual. You can also ask your local compiler about how the count is conducted and what rules to follow.
ARE YOU IN OR OUT?
If you have a bird feeder that sees a lot of traffic, ask your compiler if your feeder is within the designated circle. If so, you may be able to participate from the comfort of your own roost!
Of course, you may decide it would be more fun to be out in the field. If this is the case, and you’re fairly new to the Christmas Bird Count, ask to be paired with an experienced member. Don’t be shy, bird enthusiasts love to share their hobby, and will be more than willing to help another birder out.
PLAY NAME THAT TUNE
Birds are counted whether they are seen or heard, so in the days before beginning your count, brush up on identifying the local fauna by sound.
Many university ornithology departments offer sound clips of various species on their websites. If you’re going to be counting with a partner, take turns playing songs and guessing the bird.
FIND YOUR FEATHERED FRIENDS
Don’t forget to study the physical attributes of local birds as well. A good resource is the expansive state-by-state listing of birds on Wikipedia. Here's a link for North Dakota's birds, for example. Looking for your own region's birds? Just type in "List of birds of (your region)." It also might be useful to bring along a bird field guide. Cornell's ornithology department has its own bird ID app — The Merlin!
If you’re going to be trail blazing on your count day, we recommend that you hike your planned trail a few days before. Doing so will make you more familiar with the territory and the birds that frequent those locations.
MAKE A LIST, CHECK IT TWICE
These items will be helpful if you’ve decided to venture out for the Christmas Bird Count.
>> FOOD: Lunch, as well as snacks & a full thermos
>> EYES: Binoculars for spotting birds at a distance
>> RECORDER: Camera for creating a record of your sightings
>> CLOTHES: Seasonal appropriate clothing — Layered and warm, if needed.
>> WARMTH: Fast-acting heatpads, like HotHands if you’re experiencing cold weather
>> NEW TECH: A smartphone for GPS, communicating with your team, or identifying birds. There are even a few free apps, such as Cornell’s Merlin app, dedicated to bird watching.
>> OLD TECH: Walkie Talkies can help, depending on your location. You might not always have a signal for your phone, so to ensure communication with your team, you’ll want to bring this old-school technology.