For the Birds Radio Program: Christmas Bird Count 1987

Original Air Date: Dec. 18, 1987

Tomorrow is Duluth’s annual Christmas Bird Count. (4:00)

Audio missing


Christmas Bird Count

(Recording of a Black-capped Chickadee)

It is now officially Christmas Bird Count season. Duluth holds its count tomorrow–other cities in our listening area may also be holding counts, so watch your local newspaper for details if you’re interested.

The Christmas Bird Count has been an annual tradition in birding circles ever since Christmas Day, 1900, when 27 avid bird-watchers went out seeking and counting birds in several spots in the northeastern United States. Now the event is sponsored by the National Audubon Society, and about 40,000 people take part in the event in over 1500 locations ranging from Alaska down to Central America and Hawaii. Every American state and Canadian province is represented in the count.

If the weather’s nice, a Christmas Bird Count is a most enjoyable way to spend a day. Groups go out at sunrise, or even earlier if they’re optimistically listening for owls, and hike or drive around their area searching for every single bird they can find. If the weather’s lousy, which happens occasionally in North Country, the experience loses a bit of its glamour. If the temperature is much below zero, binoculars fog up and freeze. A light snowfall melts to droplets of water on binocular lenses, causing many to forget about birds and spend their day envisioning designs for tiny windshield wipers. Blizzards aren’t too bad on binoculars–which usually remain snugly zipped under jackets all day, since there aren’t any birds to see anyway. Worst case scenario for a Christmas Bird Count is freezing rain. Birds and sensible birders alike hide out on those days.

Bird count data is compiled each year by National Audubon, and published in American Birds magazine. That particular issue is always a formidable volume–last year’s issue was 1118 pages long, citing 74,169,620 individual birds. Data from each year’s count is important in keeping track of population trends of various species, and although inaccuracies can always be expected in counts run by amateurs, overall the information becomes extremely valuable to researchers.

But few birders who go out on counts are actually motivated by the research value of their work–they’re usually concentrating on a hot competition. Birders always thrill at seeing more species than anyone else, and bird counts pit city against city in quests to see the most species of all. Last year’s CBC “winner” in Minnesota was Duluth, which tallied 55 different species. Rochester, our traditional rival, only found 50, so this year they ‘ll be fighting hard to regain their title. In Wisconsin, Madison was #1 with 75 species, beating out their arch rival, Milwaukee, by 12 species. Counts in central and southern Wisconsin always outclass Minnesota counts simply because Wisconsin has more southeastern birds like Tufted Titmice and Screech Owls, and tropical Madison and Milwaukee usually have much more open water than cities in Minnesota.

You don’t have to actually go outdoors to participate in a Christmas Bird Count–many people simply count the birds at their feeders. If you’d like to add your yard’s birds to the Duluth total and live within 7 1/2 miles of Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve, call Kim Eckert at 525-6930.

(Recording of Common Raven)

This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”