History of the Christmas Bird Count
How the count started and how the data
is used today
Prior to the turn of the 20th century, hunters engaged in a holiday tradition known as
the Christmas "Side Hunt." They would choose sides and go afield with their guns—
whoever brought in the biggest pile of feathered (and furred) quarry won.
Conservation was in its beginning stages in that era, and many observers and scientists
were becoming concerned about declining bird populations. Beginning on Christmas Day 1900,
ornithologist Frank M. Chapman, an early officer in the then-nascent Audubon Society, proposed
a new holiday tradition—a "Christmas Bird Census" that would count birds during the holidays
rather than hunt them.
So began the Christmas Bird Count. Thanks to the inspiration of Chapman and the enthusiasm
of 27 dedicated birders, 25 Christmas Bird Counts were held that day. The locations ranged from
Toronto, Ontario to Pacific Grove, California with most counts in or near the population centers
of northeastern North America. Those original 27 Christmas Bird Counters tallied around 90 species
Each November, birders interesting in participating in the CBC can sign up and join in through the Audubon website. From December 14 through January 5 each year tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the Americas brave snow, wind, or rain, and take part in the effort. Audubon and other organizations use data collected in this long-running wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations, and to help guide conservation action.
The data collected by observers over the past century allow Audubon researchers, conservation biologists, wildlife agencies and other interested individuals to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America. When combined with other surveys such as the Breeding Bird Survey, it provides a picture of how the continent's bird populations have changed in time and space over the past hundred years.
The long term perspective is vital for conservationists. It informs strategies to protect birds and their habitat, and helps identify environmental issues with implications for people as well.
What conservationists have learned through Christmas Bird Count data
• Audubon’s 2014 Climate Change Report is a comprehensive, first-of-its kind study that predicts how climate change could affect the ranges of 588 North American birds. Of the 588 North American bird species Audubon studied, more than half are likely to be in trouble. Our models indicate that 314 species will lose more than 50 percent of their current climatic range by 2080.
• The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has included Audubon's climate change work from CBC data as one of 26 indicators of climate change in their 2012 report.
• In 2009 CBC data were instrumental in the collaborative report by the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service - State of the Birds 2009.
• In 2007, CBC data were instrumental in the development of Audubon’s Common Birds in Decline Report, which revealed that some of America's most beloved and familiar birds have taken a nosedive over the past forty years.
What Ventura County has learned through the Christmas Bird Counts
During the 18 years that Karl Kraus served as Compiler for the Ventura Audubon CBC, he collected and documented an excellent history of the bird count data. He expanded the database to include more limited data from the earliest VAS CBC in 1980. Brad Sillasen believed it would be very interesting to publish these trends in local bird populations and to make the information available on the web. After all this is the point of the counts.
Using Karl Kraus’ data Brad developed a wonderful interactive application that clearly shows the trends in bird populations within Ventura Audubon’s Count Circle. The “count circle” is a 15-mile diameter circle centered, approximately, on Cañada Larga Road. Every year, the count is conducted within the same circle that is divided into eight sectors.
Here's the link tracking from 1980 to 2017: http://serpentrack.com/cbc/
2017 Count Sumary - Frank DeMartino
Before we get to the count summary and highlights, I just want to thank everyone who was involved with the Christmas Bird Count this past year. It takes a lot of people to make this count such a success especially in the face of such adversity. Participating this year, we had; a hundred people out scouring for birds, eight hard working sector leaders, several local organizations that allowed us access to private property, and several reporters who helped spread the news of our important citizen science. We also had over a dozen first time counters and backyard counters this year. Thank you all!
Birds of Ventura County - 2015
Obviously last year’s Thomas Fire devastated our region and much of our CBC circle was burned and inaccessible. The birds were still mostly around by the time we did our counting, over three weeks after the start of the fire. We ended up with 175 species for the count day, plus another 1 bird (Western Tanager) for the count week. That puts us at just about average for the count area. In total, we recorded 23,750 bird sightings.
Our count total was also boosted by some uncommon wintering species found on count day including: Baltimore Oriole, Clay-Colored Sparrow, and Bullock’s Oriole. We didn’t have a boat for the Ocean Sector, but a White-winged Scoter was close enough to shore to be identified. Joining the count for the first time this year was a trio of Yellow-Crowned Night Herons seen at the Ventura Settling Ponds. Hopefully they will become regulars for future counts!
Even some of the expected species were notable this year as we set record highs for Hairy Woodpeckers (8) and Wild Turkeys (41). This marks the second consecutive year that we have set a high count for Hairy Woodpeckers.
You just never know what you’re going to find (or not find) during these types of bird counts. With this year’s count I will be especially interested to see how the birds have moved back into burn areas. We will need all the eyes we can get! Come join us for a walk or count your backyard if you live within the circle.