Venture: Christmas Bird Count

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Birders are very friendly folks, so their world has no shortage of great stories. There's none better than this.

Before the turn of the 20th century, men would celebrate the holidays by heading out on a daylong event called a side hunt. It was pretty simple: The winning team was the one who came back with the most dead birds. Apparently this is what everyone did before they had "Call of Duty: Black Ops."

Naturalist Frank Chapman had second thoughts, though, and feared the results of such wanton avian carnage. Instead of shooting birds, he said during the winter of 1900, people should just count them while still alive.

So, on Christmas Day, he did. Others joined him. Birders are still counting today.

Now in its 111th year, the Christmas Bird Count has become an early winter bird survey that provides crucial data about the relationship between humans, habitat and the millions of flyers that call America home.

During daily counts held from Dec. 14 to Jan. 5, birding teams follow routes through one of more than 2,100 circles designated throughout the Western hemisphere. Birders count the total number of each species in an area, and a compiler sends results to a database hosted by the National Audubon Society.

Christmas counters have charted the decline of the eastern Bewick's wren and the wintering populations of the American black duck. More than a century of annual tallies has painted a comprehensive picture of avian expansion and contraction, tragedy and success.

"People refer to Audubon's Christmas Bird Count as the granddaddy of citizen-science projects," Audubon spokeswoman Delta Willis said. "A scientist or a research team couldn't pay anyone to get this kind of data. We've got thousands of volunteers who have been doing this for so long."

Amateur birders are welcome to join, and counts will abound in Columbus.

Columbus Audubon will host counts at Hoover Reservoir (Dec. 18), in Columbus (Dec. 19), through Delaware County (Dec. 19) and near O'Shaughnessy Reservoir (Jan. 2). Metro Parks will host trips at Highbanks (Dec. 18) and Glacier Ridge (Jan. 2).

Need an atlas to find that winter wonderland? Ideas for hiking, birding, sledding, skiing and more await on the Ohio Adventure Map at

Christmas Bird Count

Through Jan. 5