Christmas bird count is an island tradition

The San Juan Islands Christmas Bird Count will be on Saturday, Dec. 31. Organizers say it’s a wonderful way to celebrate the coming of a new year.

In 1900, ornithologist Frank Chapman, along with other conservationists, was troubled at the slaughter of birds in the annual holiday event called the “side hunt.” The team that shot the most birds (and other small animals) was the winner. As a protest, Chapman organized 27 friends in 25 locations on Christmas Day to count live animals instead of shooting them. This became an annual event and the National Audubon Society has now sponsored it for 115 years. The CBC is now the longest-running citizen science survey in the world, providing critical data on population trends from the tallies of more than 2,300 bird-count circles in many different countries.

Today, each Audubon chapter chooses a 24-hour time period from the middle of December to early January for their count. The area covered is a 15-mile wide circle of about 177 square miles. San Juan’s circle which began in 1987 has the center at the University of Washington Labs in Friday Harbor and includes parts of San Juan, Orcas, Lopez and Shaw. Teams divide the area into units to survey by car, foot and boat. Some people monitor their own backyard, neighborhood or bird feeder. Young and old, experienced and inexperienced birders are welcome. We always need more people to cover many areas.

Variations in San Juans’ 28-year history have seen the Anna’s Hummingbirds and Eurasian Collared-Doves numbers on the rise, while the population of seabirds and shorebirds has dropped precipitously over the years. Bird populations are indicators of the overall health of our environment. As the database continues to grow and becomes long-term, it is possible to monitor the abundance and distribution patterns of wintering bird populations.

This is a chance to connect with fellow birders, experience winter’s splendor, and introduce newcomers to the magical world of birding.

The Audubon Christmas Bird Count is a citizen science project organized by the National Audubon Society. There is no fee to participate and the quarterly report, American Birds, is available online. 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 Contact Barbara Jensen, 378-3068 to participate.