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December 18, 2011 / Leslie

Virtual Advent 2011: Christmas Bird Count

As regular visitors to Under My Apple Tree already know, I love birds. I enjoy watching and photographing them and have a weekly bird feature, Weekend Birding.

Each year in December I volunteer to count birds for the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count. This is an annual count which takes place in the weeks around Christmas. It began on Christmas Day in 1900 with only 27 observers and has grown to include over 50,000 counters at 2,000 locations across the Americas.

The purpose of the count is to capture an early winter snapshot of bird populations over the years. The data collected allows researchers to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America. Participants of all ages and experience levels are welcome. Our youngest birder was age 10 and she did a great job of spotting birds.

My group met at on the grounds of Cantigny Park and Gardens. In the afternoon the group would continue the count on the golf course.

It had snowed the night before and by morning about an inch had accumulated. The day was overcast, dark and gloomy when we arrived at the park. You can see from the photo on the right how desolate it was. That is not a black and white picture; there just wasn’t much color. The temperature hovered around freezing most of the day.

We broke into two groups and went opposite directions. Birds were scarce for the first hour but eventually some fluffy, cold bird could be seen.

Birds do remain in the Chicago area during the winter and every year we see the usual permanent residents such as woodpeckers, doves, cardinals, sparrows, finches, chickadees, hawks and even robins. Yes, robins are here year round. They form large flocks and forage for berries at the forest edge, although some do migrate further south. Instead of just counting the number of species, as we do on a regular bird walk, we also count the total number birds. The flock of robins numbered twenty-five.

It’s always exciting to see a bird that is usually not in the Chicago area this time of year. We found a Yellow-rumped Warbler hopping around eating berries that had fallen from a Cedar tree. Most of the warblers are long gone, headed further south by this time of year, but occasionally a few will stay if they can find something to eat. Cold isn’t a problem for most birds; they migrate to find food.

As I was leaving I spotted a bright red male Cardinal in a nearby tree. I just had to stay a few more minutes to get a photo of him.

As much as I enjoy contributing to the science behind the count, the event also provides an enjoyable social birding experience and a fun annual tradition. We had a great time and even a little competition between the two groups as to who saw the most birds.

(Click on photos for larger images).

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



Leave a Comment
  1. Gina / Dec 18 2011 7:50 am

    fabulous pictures! Bird watching is not a hobby of mine but this looks like a really fun event


  2. Arlee Bird / Dec 18 2011 8:30 am

    I love birds too! And I love people who love birds.

    Arlee Bird
    Journaling Woman at my memoir blog
    starting Saturday 12/17/2011 with a special giveaway!
    Wrote By Rote


  3. BermudaOnion / Dec 18 2011 8:44 am

    I never realized bird migrated for food, not weather, but that makes perfect sense! I love the red of the cardinal in that photo.


  4. Leeswammes / Dec 18 2011 9:31 am

    What a great tradition!


  5. sprite / Dec 18 2011 11:04 am

    I just wrote up a piece on the Christmas bird count for a website at work. It’s great to read an account of a person who’s actually gone out on one, so thank you for sharing it — and your great photos!


  6. booksnyc / Dec 18 2011 11:33 am

    What a great tradition! The photo of the cardinal could literally be on the cover of a holiday card!


  7. Suko / Dec 18 2011 5:33 pm

    They are all beautiful photos, but I especially love the photo of the cardinal against the snowy branches. May I have a copy of that photo?!


  8. Margg / Dec 19 2011 4:03 am

    Fascinating, and I am sure you have a lot of fun with it!

    Thanks so much for sharing on the Virtual Advent tour this year!


  9. Diane@BibliophileBytheSea / Dec 19 2011 6:45 am

    This sounds like a fun event Leslie; glad you got to capture some birds in the process.


  10. Suko / Dec 20 2011 8:07 pm

    Leslie, I would love a copy of the cardinal photo to frame for my wall. It’s simply stunning!


  11. Tami / Dec 21 2011 10:41 am

    What an interesting Christmas tradition. Can’t say I know much about birds, but I do love cardinals and use them alot in my Christmas decorating. Your pic of the cardinal is beautiful!

    Have a Merry Christmas.


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