The nation’s longest-running community science initiative will take place in Palm Beach County on Saturday, Dec. 28. The 120th National Audubon Christmas Bird Count will mobilize nearly 80,000 volunteer birders and nature enthusiasts in more than 2,600 locations across the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America. Data compiled from the count will record every individual bird and bird species seen in a specified area, contributing to a vast community science network.
Prior to the turn of the 20th century, hunters engaged in a holiday tradition known as the Christmas “Side Hunt,” where participants wandered the countryside shooting at every bird and small animal they saw. At the end of the hunt, teams tallied their kills to find out which side had 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 new Audubon Society, proposed a new holiday tradition — a “Christmas Bird Census” that would count birds during the holidays rather than hunt them.
This year marks the 65th year that Audubon Everglades, the Palm Beach County chapter of the National Audubon Society, will contribute to the annual bird count. Audubon Everglades member and volunteer Chuck Weber, who has participated in the count for more than 25 years, will compile the data collected from observers.
“The Christmas Bird Count is not only another opportunity to get out and go birding, it makes us part of a worldwide citizen science effort going back more than a century,” Weber said. “In the years I’ve done our count, I’ve seen many changes in the area we survey. Yes, we’ve lost wooded areas and much farmland, but we’ve also benefited from new public natural areas and habitat improvements.”
There is a specific methodology to the bird count. Volunteer counters are required to follow specified routes through a designated 15-mile diameter circle counting every bird they see or hear. All birds are counted during the 24-hour period, giving an indication of the total species and number of birds in the circle that day.
New count sites within the circle for 2019 include Certified Audubon International Cooperative Sanctuary golf courses the Wycliffe Golf & Country Club and the Links at Boynton Beach.
“Golf courses provide good habitat for birds, so we are really interested in capturing data from these locations,” Audubon Everglades volunteer Doreen LePage said. “As the population grew, the good birding habitats turned into gated communities. We lost access to these areas to include in our annual counts, and we are grateful to have access to these private golf courses this year.”
Birders of all ages and experience are invited to participate in this fun community science project, which provides ornithologists with a crucial snapshot of native bird populations during the winter months. To sign up for the Palm Beach County count, e-mail email@example.com. There is no fee to participate.