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By Jen Mannas, Wildlife Naturalist

Do you love birds? Have you ever wanted to help bird researchers but you weren’t sure how you could?

Pacific Wren, PAWS Campus 040412 KM

Well now’s your chance. The annual Christmas Bird Count runs from December 15 through January 5. For the last 115 years, citizen scientists like yourself have conducted a bird census across the western hemisphere. The data from this important census helps researchers better understand how our bird populations are doing and how their populations are being affected by our changing world. Data from this census has already been used in more than 200 peer-reviewed articles.

Varied Thrush, PAWS Campus 020713 KM-21

The Christmas Bird Count started on Christmas Day in 1900 when scientists were starting to become concerned about declining bird populations. Ornithologist Frank M. Chapman proposed a Christmas bird census that would count birds during the holiday season rather than the traditional side hunt -- a competition in which teams of hunters went into the woods with rifles to kill birds and small game -- which was conducted each Christmas.

Christmas bird count-world map
Image courtesy of Audubon


What started out as 27 birders conducting 25 surveys from Toronto to Pacific Grove, CA has turned into 72,000 bird enthusiasts conducting surveys in over 2,400 locations across the Western Hemisphere.

Participation is free and bird lovers of all ages and skill levels are encouraged to participate. Each count takes place in an established 15-mile-wide circle on one day between December 15 and January 5 and is organized by a count compiler. Volunteers follow a specified route in that area, counting every bird they see or hear.

Christmas bird count-WA map
Image courtesy of Audubon


If helping from home is more your speed, you can do so if your home is within the boundaries of a Christmas Bird Count circle. From Bellingham south to Olympia there are 19 survey circles, including two in the San Juan Islands and several others on the Olympic Peninsula. If you’ve made prior arrangements with the count compiler in charge of your area, you can report birds that visit your backyard habitat or feeder.

To get involved, register your email address on the Audubon Christmas Bird Count website and they will send you links and information on how to choose your census circle and how to sign up.

For more information about the Christmas Bird Count, check out these websites:

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