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The Year Isn't Over Until The Christmas Bird Count Is In

The National Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count is underway, drawing tens of thousands of volunteers across the U.S., Canada, the Caribbean, Latin America, and Pacific Islands.

Those volunteers form local groups, and they choose a day between December 15 and January 4 to go out and count all the birds they can see.

The count began in 1900 when ornithologist Frank M. Chapman proposed a new tradition – to do a Christmas Bird Census, recording all the birds in a local area.

This first census had a total of 27 participants. More than a century later, there are over 70,000 participants completing more than 2,500 counts.

Cynthia Ehlinger volunteers for the Greenwich-Stamford Count as a Christmas Bird Count compiler. She says, “It’s called the Greenwich-Stamford Bird Count, but we go from Darien over into Rye, up to Bedford, and down into the Sound. We spilt that circle up into about 20 other smaller territories, and each territory will have a group that goes out, some of them will go out and look for owls during the night. And everyone goes out during the daytime who search their favorite spots to look for birds. Some of it is by walking, some by driving around, and there are even some people that go out in the boat.”

Ehlinger’s group is one of more than 25 in Connecticut and Long Island. This year they had nearly 70 volunteers.

“It’s very special. We all go out in our separate ways during the day and then when we come back for a potluck dinner at the end of the day. It's a lot of fun to see what other people have seen and kind of wait until the end to see if there’s a rare bird that wasn’t on our list, if anybody saw something special. And the way to keep connected with some of our birding friends. It is something that everybody looks forward to every year.”

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Credit Audubon Connecticut
The 2017 Christmas Bird Counts in Connecticut and Long Island. Each count covers a 15-mile radius.

Their final data isn’t in yet, but Ehlinger says they recorded over 14,000 individual birds. This data alone doesn’t tell us much, but put it together with all the data collected since 1900, and it becomes a really valuable tool for conservationists and researchers.

They’ve been able to use the Christmas Bird Count data to detect early signs of species decline and track how climate change is affecting bird populations.

Most of the 2017 counts for Connecticut and Long Island have already taken place, but Ehlinger says they are always looking for new volunteers