It happens every year: the Christmas Bird Count.
The first one was organized by American ornithologist Frank Chapman in December, 1900. Conservation was in its beginning stages. Chapman, an early officer in the nascent Audubon Society, proposed a new holiday tradition—a “Christmas Bird Census” that would count birds rather than kill them. That first one included 27 birders in 25 separate counts. Locations ranged from Toronto, to Pacific Grove, California, with most counts in northeastern North America. Those original 27 counters tallied around 90 species on all the counts combined.
Prior to the turn of the 20th century, hunters engaged in a holiday tradition known as the Christmas “Side Hunt.” They choose sides and went out with their new guns. The side with the biggest pile of feathered (and furred) bodies won. There were few restrictions then on shooting wild animals of any kind, anywhere. Theodore Roosevelt was not yet president and so there were no national wildlife refuges.
Now the Christmas Bird Count continues as the oldest and largest community science effort on Earth. The count season is from mid-December 14 to January 5. Some of us partake of more than one count annually. People who stay home can submit counts from their garden or bird feeders. There is a count sponsored by our Salem Audubon Society. There are nearby counts in Dallas, Silverton, Yamhill County, Corvallis, Upper Nestucca, Lincoln City, Florence and Tillamook. There are almost fifty counts across our state.
Altogether there were over 2,600 counts last year and nearly 77,000 counters. Counts are now conducted across the Western Hemisphere. Birds? Nearly 77 million were tallied, representing over 2,500 species, about a quarter of all known bird species on Earth.
Salem had a count by four people back in 1916. Decades later, in 1963, the Christmas Bird Count became an annual event here. There were only two counters through 1966. In 1967 it jumped to 21 (must have been some publicity). In some recent years there have been over 70 participants in the Salem Christmas Bird Count. Most counts since 1990 have recorded from 100 to 113 species. That includes the many duck species who come here to winter in our unfrozen lakes and rivers.
To participate this year visit https://salemaudubon.org/, or view a list of Christmas Bird Counts in Oregon at https://oregonbirding.org/cbc/. Learn more about the count here and view historical count data here.
Harry Fuller is an Oregon birder and natural history author of “Freeway Birding.” He is a member of the Salem Audubon Society. Contact him at [email protected] or atowhee.blog. His “Some Fascinating Things About Birds” column appears regularly in Salem Reporter.
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Harry Fuller is an Oregon birder and natural history author of three books: “Freeway Birding,” "Great Gray Owls of California, Oregon and Washington," and "San Francisco's Natural History--Sand Dunes to Streetcars." He leads birding trips for the Malheur Field Station. He is a member of the Salem Audubon Society, and leads bird trips locally. Harry has just published a new book, BIrding Harney County.