Audubon North Carolina Invites You to Celebrate 120 Years of the Annual Christmas Bird Count

How many birds will you spot and identify during the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count? Photo: Kay Whatley
How many birds will you spot and identify during the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count? Photo: Kay Whatley


Between December 14 and January 5, participants across the state will join the world’s longest-running wildlife census, which contributes invaluable data to bird population research.

Audubon North Carolina invites birdwatchers to participate in the longest-running community science survey in the world, Audubon’s annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC). This holiday season marks the 120th year that bird-loving volunteers will fan out across the state, the country, and much of the Western Hemisphere to count birds.

The twelve decades’ worth of data collected by participants continue to contribute to one of only two large existing pools of information notifying ornithologists and conservation biologists about what conservation action is required to protect birds and the places they need.

Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count is one of the longest-running wildlife censuses in the world. Each individual count takes place in a 15-mile-wide circle and is led by a compiler responsible for organizing volunteers and submitting observations directly to Audubon.

Within each circle, participants tally all birds seen or heard that day—not just the species but total numbers to provide a clear idea of the health of that particular population.

“Joining a Christmas Bird Count near you is a fun, easy, and incredibly important way to help us better understand and protect birds, and by extension our own communities,” said Curtis Smalling, Audubon North Carolina director of conservation. “Because the count is a long-standing tradition and so many people help gather data, we are able to notice trends over time that tell us important things about the natural world, including environmental changes that affect all of us. By adding your observations to twelve decades of counts, we are able to make conservation decisions that are more impactful for birds and people.”

When combined with other surveys such as the Breeding Bird Survey, Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count 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. For example, earlier this year, Science published a study using decades of Audubon Christmas Bird Count data to describe a grim picture: a steady decline of nearly three billion North American birds since 1970, primarily as a result of human activities. Christmas Bird Count data have been used in more than 300 peer-reviewed articles.

A brand new feature for this year’s 120th Christmas Bird Count will be “CBC Live,” a crowd-sourced, hemisphere-wide storytelling function using Esri mapping software. This “story-map” will ask users to upload a photo taken during their Christmas Bird Count as well as a short anecdote to paint a global picture of the Christmas Bird Count in real time.

In North Carolina last year, the 119th Christmas Bird Count included 53 count circles. Participants encountered warmer than normal temperatures across the state as they fanned out to find birds. The largest list ticked in at Wilmington, where counters tallied 166 species. All told, counters found 828,389 individuals of 222 species. Highlights included:

  • Two Golden Eagles, one at Lake Mattamuskeet and another at New River
  • A count-first Black-crowned Night Heron at Roanoke Rapids
  • A Northern Goshawk on the Pamlico Count
  • A total of 89 Black-legged Kittiwakes passing the Point at Cape Hatteras, a record count for the species in North Carolina
  • A Black Scoter in Raleigh, a good find for an inland count

Across the country and the Western Hemisphere, last year saw a record-setting 2,615 count circles, with 1,975 counts in the United States, 460 in Canada and 180 in Latin America, the Caribbean, Bermuda and the Pacific Islands. This was the ninth-straight year of record-breaking counts. In total, 79,425 observers out in the field and watching feeders tallied up over 48 million birds representing more than 2,600 different species—more than one-quarter of the world’s known avifauna. Approximately 5 percent of the North

American landmass was surveyed by the Christmas Bird Count. Last year included two new species for the Christmas Bird Count list of birds seen in the United States: a Little Stint in San Diego and a Great Black Hawk in Portland, Maine. To observe the trends of any particular species over the last twelve decades, take a look here.

The Northern Bobwhite, the only native quail in the eastern United States, continues its downward spiral. This species has essentially disappeared from the Northeast and faces massive declines due to loss of shrubland habitat exacerbated by increased droughts. On the flip side, Red-breasted Nuthatches and Purple Finches staged major irruptions southward during the 119th CBC.

Beginning on Christmas Day in 1900, Dr. Frank M. Chapman, founder of Bird-Lore — which evolved into Audubon magazine — proposed a new holiday tradition that would count birds during the holidays rather than hunt them. Conservation was in its beginning stages in that era, and many observers and scientists were becoming concerned about declining bird populations. So began the Christmas Bird Count. 120 years later, the tradition continues and still manages to bring out the best in people and contribute valuable data to the worldwide scientific community.

To sign up for a Christmas Bird Count in North Carolina and ensure your bird count data make it into the official Audubon database, please visit the website to find the circle nearest you and register with your local Christmas Bird Count compiler. Find count dates on the Carolina Bird Club website. All Christmas Bird Count data must be submitted through the official compiler to be added to the long-running census.

The Audubon Christmas Bird Count is a community science project organized by the National Audubon Society. There is no fee to participate. Counts are open to birders of all skill levels and Audubon’s free Bird Guide app makes it even easier to learn more. For more information and to find a count near you visit

The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. A nonprofit conservation organization since 1905, Audubon works throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation. Learn more at and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @audubonsociety.

Audubon North Carolina, a state program of the National Audubon Society, has offices in Durham, Boone, Corolla, and Wilmington, NC. Learn more at and on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.​


Source: Ben Graham, Audubon North Carolina


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