Audobon just celebrated its 112th year of its citizen science project- the Christmas Bird Count. It began small, but now is worldwide, taking place on every continent. More people are involved in the Christmas Bird Count than watch the Superbowl. It is an event where birders new and old, beginners and old hands join together to count as many birds as they can in their local area, each region being covered for just a single day. It is a great way to share your own knowledge of your local feathered friends, but also to learn more about the birds of your area by being with people that will point out the different birds you are seeing and hearing, by counting them. The results are then sent in and tabulated by the Audobon Society, and a report of all the birds seen in all the different regions is published. While weather and other factors can affect numbers seen and counted, numbers taken from over so many years help to give a general sense of the health of bird populations around the world over the years.
Children have been involved on the periphery of the bird counts as they are taken along by parents (or in some cases make their parents go so that they may be involved), but often times the days can be a little long and the pace a little arduous. And this has spawned a new movement over the last several years (the first one I know of started in 2008)- Christmas Bird Counts for Kids. It is small right now, but growing exponentially. This year there were tens, if not hundreds of bird counts for kids- schools and national parks are organizing them now, but so are communities. In fact, it all started in communities that wanted to give younger people an introduction to birding, to show them the beauty of the natural world.
Saturday was the second Bird Count for Kids that I’ve participated in (both as a photographer and an experienced birder helping young people to learn birds).This year and last I took pictures of this new event hosted by the Point Reyes National Seashore, watching as kids became more and more excited the more they learned about the birds that they were seeing.
There were eight or nine groups of twelve (including children and their parents) that headed off with an experienced guide for two hours to count all the birds they could see and hear. Everyone then met up to tally their results over a bag lunch and to discuss what they saw. This year we had a 30% increase in the number of birds that were counted last year, with many new species. Kids were swapping names of birds back and forth as they discussed what they had seen- Northern Harrier and Red-Tail replacing the more generalized term of “hawk” that they had used before for any large bird that wasn’t a vulture.
There were also activities for the younger kids that weren’t up to tramping around for two hours, looking up into the sky. There was a “Baby Bird Camp” where the young ones made binoculars from toilet paper rolls and spotted cut out of large birds placed in the bushes.
At the end there were two live rescue birds brought in as a treat for the kids, to add a little extra excitement for the day… All of this isn’t necessary though to start your own Christmas bird count for kids. All you need is one or two small groups that head out to count birds, and then meeting up to discuss them afterwards. We can fall in love with nature anytime, but we might as well start when we are young… that way we’ll have more time together.
One more thing- for young local birders, there will be a count taking place this Sunday in Sonoma County- Sonoma bird count for kids