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Birding In The National Parks: Christmas Bird Counts Around The Corner


This Northern Harrier was spotted in Glacier National Park during last year's Christmas Bird Count. Photo by Kristin Thompson via Audubon's Christmas Bird Count website.

The weather outside might be frightful, but in the parks, the birding’s delightful.

With Thanksgiving still on the horizon, we shouldn’t be talking about Christmas yet, but the Christmas Bird Count spirit has overwhelmed me! 2013 is the 114th year for the world’s longest-running citizen science project, sponsored by the National Audubon Society.

With more count circles than ever and free participation , there’s no good reason not to join a count this winter. You’ll get some exercise, improve your birding skills, and contribute data that ornithologists about bird population dynamics.

I’m not sure how many of our national parks fall within Christmas Bird Count circles, but chances are good that any park with lots of natural habitat and at least one dedicated birder living in the area has a circle. Here are a few examples of counts in the West I wish I could join, but unlike Santa Claus, I can’t visit everywhere in the country in one Holiday season.

* The Yosemite National Park CBC has been going on annually since 1932. They’ve counted more than 95,000 birds so far, and are likely to hit that magical 100,000 mark next year. 2011 provided a sunny, warm day for the Yosemite count, but last year was more typically wintry. Still, some hardy birders scoured Badger Pass in snowshoes looking for birds to add to the growing list. They spotted only 61 birds up there, and 43 of them were Mountain Chickadees. In total, nine species of woodpecker were tallied, but not a single owl. You never know what you’re going to see – or not see – on a Christmas Bird Count.

This year’s Yosemite count is on December 15th. For more information, contact CBC organizer Sarah Stock at 209-379-1435.

* At Point Reyes National Seashore, they’re looking toward the future of the Christmas Bird Count with their fourth annual Christmas Bird for Kids for ages 3 to 18. The count is a half-day even to introduce children and families to the 114 year-old Audubon tradition. From the park’s website:

Budding Birders (ages 3 to 6) will have a range of activities and a bird discovery walk, while Young Birders (ages 7 to 18) will participate in the official count and pre-choose their birding location. The objective of this event is to have fun, connect families with nature, and potentially create a "home team" of birders for future bird counts. Kids will be guided and encouraged to look for, identify and record the kinds and numbers of birds they encounter with help from their local "bird brain."

All children must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. Parents and guardians will be encouraged to support their child's discovery and in the process learn some important methods to continue their child's exploration of the natural world.

For additional information and registration, contact Jessica Taylor at 415-663-1200 x304.

* I’ve never visited Bryce Canyon in the winter, but seeing fresh snow on the hoodoos while counting birds for science is high on my bucket list. CBC’s typically net around 50 species in the canyon circle, but that number dropped to 39 last year. Hopefully this year’s tally will be back to normal. There’s a free t-shirt waiting for any birder who’d like to lend a hand in the count on December 17th. Contact park biologist Sara Haas at 435-834-4753 to find out more.

* Tiny Pipe Spring National Monument in Arizona doesn’t let its small size keep it out of the action. A CBC circle is more than 113,000 acres, while Pipe Spring is only 40 acres. That means birders will conduct counts along roads leading to the monument as well is in the monument itself. Get in touch with Andrea Bornemeier at 928-643-7105 to help out with this one.

To find a count in your area, visit the CBC home page. If there isn’t a circle in your favorite park, consider starting one. There’s always room for new circles if a dedicated compiler and few ambitious birders want to make it happen.


Last year was so much fun, and so many nice pictures. Alas, with rotator cuff surgery yesterday, months of rehab scheduled but not to start for three weeks, and our count two weeks off, I've just been informed by The Boss across the kitchen table that there is absolutely no way on the Godess's green earth that I will be out bouncing over icy dirt roads trying to one-hand the binocs. I'll miss the event and especially the camraderie.

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