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December 19, 2010 / Leslie

Virtual Advent: Christmas Bird Count

Anyone who’s visited here probably already knows I love birds. So it’s not unusual that I would get up early on a December Saturday morning in the cold and snow to spend the day counting birds.

I am one of the Christmas Bird Count volunteers.

The 111th Christmas Bird Count began Tuesday, December 14th and continues through January 5th. Thousands of volunteers, young and old, across North America have made a tradition of counting birds for the National Audubon Society. The data collected during the count period is used to assess the health of bird populations and help guide conservation action. The first count was held on Christmas Day 1900. Frank Chapman, an officer in the early Audubon Society, proposed it as a new holiday tradition that would count birds during the holidays rather than hunt them.

NorthernCardinal_IMG_3855Yesterday I participated in the count at Cantigny Gardens, part of the counting circle for the Dupage Birding Club. This is an annual tradition for me and something I do not with my biological family, but with a family of fellow nature and bird lovers. My family is welcome to join me, but I generally get a few raised eyebrows, a weird look and a, “No thanks, not in December!”.

We count on our group’s assigned day regardless of the weather. Unfortunately with a morning temperature of 11ºF/-12ºC and a high of 20ºF/-7ºC, yesterday was one of the coldest days of the year. Fortunately the park has a small cafe serving hot chocolate and coffee and was a place to go to warm up. Restroom hand dryers were put into service as warming stations. It was cold!

SongSparrow_IMG_3904 Although birds were not plentiful, this is Chicago in the winter after all, there were a fair number of species still in the area. Not all birds migrate; some are year-round residents. Woodpeckers, house sparrows, finches, cardinals, doves, chickadees, waxwings and even robins can be found year round. Others migrate in to the midwest from colder climates in the Northern US and Canada.

HouseFinch_IMG_3946While we don’t expect to find a partridge in a pear tree or three french hens, there are occasional surprises and it’s exciting to find a bird that shouldn’t normally be in the area this time of year. Yesterday we spotted five yellow-rumped warblers happily eating berries in a cedar tree. They should have been farther south by now. We also saw a few wild turkeys which are year-round residents but are always fun to see.

The photos (click for larger images) are from last year’s Christmas Bird Count when it was much warmer and we only had to worry about the snow and not frostbite. This year it was just too cold to take my hands out of my big, thick thermal gloves to operate the camera!


Virtual Advent is hosted by Kailana from The Written World and Marg from Adventures of an Intrepid Reader. The tour runs December 1st through 24th. Visit the Virtual Advent Tour blog for links to more Virtual Advent posts.


Leave a Comment
  1. Beth F / Dec 19 2010 7:17 am

    No matter what the year — awesome photos. I wouldn’t be snapping pics in 11F temperatures either. Yikes!

    And what a cool thing to be part of the bird count.


  2. Rebecca Rasmussen / Dec 19 2010 7:54 am

    I would have been one of the non-family members who wanted to do this. Oh your photographs are just lovely and I’m so glad you got to see the yellow rumped warblers. Sounds like a wonderful, if a little cold, day! xo


  3. Lorren / Dec 19 2010 8:49 am

    Your pictures are gorgeous! I love birds too. That cardinal is my favorite – I wish we had them around here.


  4. lemon123 / Dec 19 2010 9:57 am

    Those birds look so lovely in the snow.


  5. kaye / Dec 19 2010 10:12 am

    what a fun and unique holiday tradition and so important as well. My dad was a big game manager and our summers were spent following herds of deer and elk. We would help our dad count and classify. It was a great life for a kid.


  6. Suko / Dec 19 2010 12:52 pm

    Thank you for sharing these beautiful photos!


  7. debnance at readerbuzz / Dec 19 2010 5:21 pm

    A unique tradition. And very fun.

    BTW, I wish you could identify the birds that have nested outside my kitchen window. They are beautiful and I should know what they are, but I don’t. I wonder if there is a place on line that would help me identify them.


    • Leslie / Dec 20 2010 1:23 am

      Whatbird has an online search wizard.

      If you have a picture you can send it to me or post it and I can try and identify them.


  8. debnance at readerbuzz / Dec 19 2010 5:22 pm

    Oops. My post is at


  9. bermudaonion / Dec 19 2010 5:36 pm

    What a wonderful event! I think I would much prefer spotting birds to hunting them.


  10. sprite / Dec 19 2010 9:27 pm

    What a great tradition! And I’m so glad you found some rarer birds to make the cold worthwhile!


  11. Caroline / Dec 20 2010 5:33 am

    Lovely photos… I am quite fond of birds too. Was wathcing yellow tits on the balcony yesterday.
    You probably know the novel Out of a Clear Sky. A thriller with a main protagonist who is a bird watcher.


    • Leslie / Dec 20 2010 10:04 am

      I had not heard of this book but I’ve now added it to my to be read list. Thanks.


  12. Trish / Dec 21 2010 8:30 am

    I have never heard of such a thing but what a fun tradition! Those birds are absolutely gorgeous and I’m amazed at how many you see (guess once you start looking they’re not hard to find). Last year I read Redbird Christmas by Fannie Flagg and it was a cute little book–cheesy and predictable but cute. Have you read it?


  13. Erika / Dec 22 2010 4:47 pm

    While living in Chicagoland, one of my biggest surprises was finding a robin in January! The little guy was puffed up for warmth, but washing himself happily in a partly-frozen puddle. Good luck with the rest of your bird count!


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