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Annual Christmas Bird Count in Full Swing

Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission - Friday, December 20, 2019

Now in its 120th year, the Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC), a program of the National Audubon Society, is a citizen science program and the nation’s longest running bird survey. An early winter bird survey, the CBC runs from December 14 to January 5 each year.

The Annual CBC began in 1900 when Dr. Frank Chapman, ornithologist and founder of Bird-Lore, which evolved into Audubon magazine, suggested the CBC as an alternative to the holiday “side hunt,” in which teams competed to see who could shoot the most birds. The idea of conservation was in its early stages at this time, and many observers and scientists began to be concerned about declining bird populations. Chapman proposed that people count birds during the holiday rather than hunt them. The CBC was born that year with 27 dedicated birders and 25 bird counts who tallied approximately 90 bird species.

With over 100 years of community science involvement, the CBC includes thousands of volunteers across the U.S., Canada, and many other countries in the Western Hemisphere. Local compilers, or trained leaders, coordinate with a state compiler to organize bird counts within a specific local area. On the assigned count day, participants count all birds they encounter within their assigned section of a 15-mile diameter circle. Each 15-mile count circle has a compiler and the circle is broken into sections within a group of volunteers. Each group then tries to find all the birds in their area within a calendar day. Volunteers count the birds they actually see and hear, not the birds that they think should be there.

The amount of time that each participant gives to the CBC is flexible. Some watch a bird feeder in their own yard for an hour, while others choose to spend more than 15 hours in the field. Some participants join one bird count; others join many. Birders of all ages and skill levels participate in the CBC, with beginning birders placed within a group of at least one experienced birder.

The data collected by CBC volunteers, from the first bird count to the current count, has been invaluable to conservation biologists, Audubon researchers, wildlife agencies, and other interested individuals who study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America. The tradition of counting birds combined with modern technology and mapping is enabling researchers to make discoveries that were not possible in earlier decades.

For more information about the CBC, visit For information about counts across Arkansas, contact State Compiler Leif Anderson at 479-284-3150 ext. 3151 or [email protected].


Top: Dickcissel (Spiza americana) at Cherokee Prairie Natural Area. Photo by Samantha Scheiman.

Bottom: Birders touring Warren Prairie Natural Area during the Connecticut Audubon Society's annual trek to the natural area. Photo by Leslie Patrick.

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