The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is an annual event managed by the National Audubon that takes place not only on Cape Ann, but in all of North America and parts of Central and South America. It began in 1900 when ornithologist Frank Chapman decided that instead of a traditional Christmas season “side hunt,” where the goal was to hunt and take as many birds as possible on a given day, he would count them instead.
Every December for the past 120 years, birders have headed out to their assigned sectors and counted as many birds as they can see and hear. Weather can vary from mild and sunny to brutally windy and cold, but it is always a great experience to get out there and look for birds! Mostly you see birds that are common locally during winter such as the Cedar Waxwing, but sometimes you get a winter rarity such as an American Pipit or a migratory straggler such as a Gray Catbird, just when you thought you would have to wait until the following spring to see one again.
The data collected from the CBC contributes to one of the longest running citizen science projects in the world. The data show long-term and short-term trends in bird populations helping to provide more information for conservation efforts if a species is in decline, for example. CBC data directly influenced conservation efforts protecting the American Black Duck when its numbers began to decline in the 1980s. The data also show the many effects of climate change as we have begun to see the ranges of many species change. According to the National Audubon Society, the ranges of birds such as the Red-bellied Woodpecker and Carolina Wren have moved north in the U.S. and we can see them around Cape Ann quite regularly now. Before 1990 sightings of these birds were a rarity here.
There is no charge to participate in the Christmas Bird Count. I am looking for local birders who would like to participate this year on December 20th in Manchester-by-the-Sea. There are various ways in which you can participate. You can bird a specific area in MBTS and write down all the birds you see and hear. If you’re good at owl calls, you can head out before dawn for some owling. If you have a lively bird feeder at home, the CBC takes feeder counts too. This year will look a little different as we will follow COVID-19 guidelines to ensure the safety of all participants.