Some Christmas traditions are better left in the past. Take for example, the 19th-century Christmas Side Hunt, in which participants would form teams and head out into the frosty fields to see who could shoot the most birds. Thankfully, in 1900 Frank Chapman, ornithologist, conservationist and early officer of the National Audubon Society, suggested that instead of shooting birds, people count them. And so began the Christmas Bird Count, the largest and longest running citizen-based science survey in the world.
The day-long events now take place every year between mid-December and early January across North America, in more than 2,000 locales. Calgary is one of the longest running in Alberta – the December 17 count will mark its 57th year. Calgary records an average of 60 to 70 species a year.
In addition to field counting, the event involves backyard bird-feeder watchers across the province. You needn’t brave the cold. Just sit by your kitchen window and count the birds visiting your feeder.
So if you can tell the difference between a western grebe and a red-necked (or you want to learn), grab a pair of binoculars and sign up for a Christmas Bird Count near you. Here’s a list of events across North America.
Select Alberta Christmas Bird Counts
- Calgary: Kids Christmas Bird Count, December 18 and January 14
Organizer and details: Nature Calgary
- Edmonton: Friends of Elk Island Bird Count, December 26 at Elk Island National Park
Organizer and event details: Friends of Elk Island
- St. Albert: St Albert Christmas Bird Count, December 28
Organizer and event details: Wild Birds Unlimited
- Saskatoon: Kids Christmas Bird Count, December 29 at the Sakatoon Forestry Farm and Zoo
Organizer and event details: Saskatoon Young Naturalist