Now in its 115th year, Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is an international effort spanning 15 countries. Before the count was begun, sportsmen across the country participated in a holiday tradition called the Christmas “side hunt” – a competition to bring in the most birds and mammals in a single day of hunting. By the late 1800s, hunters and conservationists observed that birds were becoming scarce during these hunts. As a result, on Christmas Day 1900, 27 people started the Christmas Bird Count – hunting birds with binoculars and starting a new holiday tradition. Hunting is still one means used to monitor some bird populations (e.g. waterfowl) and is augmented by information from a number of other efforts, including the CBC.
Hearing the voices of thousands of wintering migratory waterbirds while enshrouded in tule fog is a unique Sacramento Valley experience. Nearly one million birds were counted during the 2014 CBC in this region. Highlights included over 200,000 ducks, almost 230,000 geese, over 8,000 shorebirds and 5,500 raptors (hawks, eagles, owls, etc.). The tiny Western Sandpiper, only 6 inches long, stops in the Sacramento Valley to rest and find food on its journey from the Alaskan arctic tundra to the coastal estuaries and lagoons of Peru. Drought has reduced the amount of water available to agriculture and the environment making it increasingly important to use every drop of water efficiently. Audubon California helps ensure that habitat is created where birds need it most, partnering with rice growers and wetland managers to create critical migratory bird habitat in a way that complements productive agriculture.
The long-term dataset of the CBC allows us to see how bird populations have changed over the last 100 years and test predictions about how bird populations will change in the future, especially in response to large-scale impacts such as drought. The CBC also provides an opportunity for bird lovers – hunters, conservationists, and birders – to join together to find and document the birds in their communities and to have a friendly competition to “bring in” the most birds. For more information on the CBC and how to get involved please visit: Audubon.