Edmonds Christmas Bird Count – call for bird lovers on Dec. 20

Surf Scoter on the Edmonds waterfront.
Surf Scoter on the Edmonds waterfront.

The Pilchuck Audubon Society is looking for bird lovers to participate in this year’s annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count. The Edmonds Christmas Bird Count will be held on Dec. 20. Experienced, intermediate and beginning birders living in Edmonds and in South Snohomish and North King counties are invited to participate.

Pilchuck Audubon is sending out a special invitation to young people with a love for birds and wildlife. Where possible, less experienced birders will be placed on experienced teams.

With this year being the 115th Christmas Bird Count (CBC), the CBC is the longest running “Citizen Science” survey in the world. The Christmas Bird Count gathers critical bird population data that is used to assess the health of bird populations, and to guide conservation action.

According to the National Audubon Society, the Christmas Bird Count is increasingly important not only in documenting how land-use changes affect birds and the environment, but is also useful in documenting the effects of climate change on North American bird populations. The data collected by observers over the past century allow researchers, conservation biologists, and other interested individuals to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America.

The data also show trends in the loss or gain in bird habitat, and help identify environmental issues with implications for people as well. For example, local trends in bird populations can signal an immediate environmental threat, such as contamination of water or aquatic life from pesticides, PCBs and other organochlorinated compounds.

How to Participate

There are two ways to participate in the CBC – join an existing group of birders on a Field Team covering a specific area within the 15-mile diameter Edmonds CBC, or independently count birds at your feeders and in your yard.

To participate on a Field Team, please contact Duane Karna, the compiler for the Edmonds count, at karnadk@comcast.net, tel. 425-776-5756.

If you are going to count at your feeders and in your yard, you will need to follow specific directions for conducting the count. These directions, along with additional general information on the Edmonds CBC, can be found on the Pilchuck Audubon website at:

Detailed Instructions for Home Counters

Chestnut-backed Chickadee on a feeder pole.
Chestnut-backed Chickadee on a feeder pole.

The Christmas Bird Count is a great opportunity to help collect bird population data that is used to guide conservation actions, but it is also a lot of fun. Part of that fun will be an enjoyable evening at a post-count potluck to share results and stories

Cooper’s Hawk on a feeder in Edmonds.
Cooper’s Hawk on a feeder in Edmonds.

Christmas Bird Count history

The Christmas Bird Count is an example of an early American wildlife conservation initiative. The late 1800s were a grim time to be a bird. Walking down the streets of any American city, one might see women wearing hats decorated with a sparrow’s wing, a large plume of great egret feathers or the head of a saw-whet owl. Such “bird-hats” were all the rage in Victorian fashion.

Outrage at the killing of birds for these bird hats led directly to the founding of the Audubon Society – women who saw the carnage of birds being killed for hats started Audubon chapters in protest. Mrs. Harriet Hemenway, a Boston socialite, organized the first Audubon Society in 1896 in Boston, after reading about the slaughter by “plume hunters” of entire rookeries of egrets for their feathers.

The Christmas season was an especially bad time of the year to be a bird during this era – a partridge was at real risk of being shot out of the pear tree. Hunters went on Christmas day “side” hunts, where participants formed up sides and went into the woods to see which team could kill the most birds.

In a 1900 issue of Bird Lore magazine, which later became Audubon Magazine, Dr. Frank Chapman, an ornithologist and early officer in the Audubon Society, proposed an annual Christmas bird-census or bird-count as an alternative and protest to these “side hunts.” This year will mark the 115th occurrence of Dr. Chapman’s Christmas Bird Count.

That first CBC on Christmas Day in 1900 included counts in 25 locations. Today, over 50,000 volunteers count birds in more than 2300 locations across North America.  Pilchuck Audubon coordinates two counts – the Edmonds count and a count in the Everett/Marysville area.

The Edmonds area CBC was started by Jan van Neil and his wife Sally in 1984, and they were the driving force for this CBC for over 20 years. Duane Karna took over these duties in 2011.

Please consider taking part in the Edmonds Christmas Bird Count on December 20th. It is a great opportunity to have a fun day while helping with a valuable bird conservation tradition.

Story and photos by Michael McAuliffe


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