Christmas Bird Count

The Audubon Christmas Bird Count is an annual count of late-December birdlife, taken between December 14 and January 5. The tradition began in 1900 in the United States when ornithologist Frank Chapman organized 27 friends in 25 locations (including Toronto) on Christmas Day. Instead of shooting birds in the annual holiday event called the "side hunt", they counted them.  Today over 60,000 people participate at over 2,000 locations across Canada, the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean, and it is the largest and longest-running wildlife survey ever undertaken.  The data are gathered by the National Audubon Society and used to approximate the densities of wintering bird populations and keep track of cyclical movements of birds and their extent. A typical example is the southward movement (irruption) of some northern owls and finches during certain winters.

 During Christmas Bird Counts, volunteers count all wild birds they see or hear in a single day within a predetermined area 15 miles (24 km) in diameter.  The count covers every type of bird habitat and the birders travel by whatever means are necessary to cover their count circle. Each census is carried out under specific guidelines. Numbers of individual birds of all species encountered are recorded and the habitats, weather, number of counters, and miles travelled (normally by car and by foot) are noted. Bird feeders within the circle are also censused.  The count day typically ends with a gathering of the participants, during which an official tally is compiled, the day’s events are recounted and food and refreshments are consumed.  Additional species observed during count week are added to the species total.  In Canada alone, almost 12,000 people participated in 382 counts in 2009, with approximately 3.2 million birds of 379 species tallied.  

Christmas Counts Locally

The Thunder Bay Christmas Bird Count has been held every year since 1939 except 1944. In Thunder Bay, the count is held every December 26, with a wrap-up pot luck dinner held that night.  Count date for other communities in the northwest varies somewhat depending on the year and participant availability. 

Christmas Bird Counts are also held in other parts of the District of Thunder Bay and provide a regional picture of winter bird activity.  These counts have included: Atikokan, Dryden, Ear Falls, Fort Frances, Gameland, Grand Marais, Ignace, Kenora, Manitouwadge, Marathon, Morson, Nipigon, Pickle Lake, Red Lake, Rainy River and Vermilion Bay-Eagle River.

The Thunder Bay count circle is centered close to the junction of the Harbour and the Thunder Bay Expressways (see map to the right).  The circle is divided into 14 units and field teams go into each unit.  There are also feeder watchers who participate from the comfort of their homes. About 30 observers take part annually.  All birds are counted that day, plus count week bird species for three days before and after count day. 

The Thunder Bay record is 53 species and 16,668 individual birds counted in 1994.

Why not join us on our Christmas Bird Count?

Held every year on Boxing Day, 26 December. We welcome your participation even if you are a begining birder! It’s a great way to learn more about our winter bird populations in a friendly atmosphere.

As with all CBC's, the count area is a standardized 24 km diameter circle. The Thunder Bay count circle is centred just west of the Thunder Bay Expressway and the Harbour Expressway intersection. The circle includes Current River as the east boundary, Melbourne Road to the north, Nicholetts Road on the west, and Loch Lomond Road as the southern boundary. (Click here to see map.)

The count circle is broken up into 14 different areas, and teams of birders spend the day checking each area to see how many species and total birds they can find. There are also a few people who just watch their feeders and submit the results. This year, the count would like to increase the number of feeder watchers who submit observations. If you live within the circle shown on the map, the count organizer would like to hear from you. 

Feeder watchers will need to submit a bird species checklist that also includes the start time, end time, and total number of hours spent watching. The number of birds recorded on the checklist is not additive, and instead is based on the highest number of birds of each species seen at any one time. So if a feeder watcher saw 4 black-capped chickadees at one point in time and 6 at another, the total count for the day would be 6 black-capped chickadees, the highest count.

Anyone interested in participating as a feeder watcher or getting out and joining a group needs to contact tbay(dot)cbc(at)gmail(dot)com for more details.