The Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count might just become your new favorite holiday tradition


christmas bird count
Black-capped Chickadee, Poecile Atricapillus, perched on branch in light snowfall and making eye contact

This year marks the 120th Christmas Bird Count, held by the Audubon Society every year during a two-week period overlapping Christmas (this year it falls between December 14 and January 5). What is this Christmas Bird Count, you ask? Put simply, a census of every bird seen and heard by participants—backyard birders and professional ornithologists alike—during a fortnight surrounding Christmas. (It used to occur on Christmas Day proper, but now it’s a little more flexible.)

Photo by chuvipro / Getty Images

The CBC was conceived in the late 19th century, when going on a Christmas bird hunt was fairly standard practice. Abhorrently, people would compete for how many birds they could kill in one day. In 1900, Bird Lore Magazine (which became Audubon Magazine) founder Frank Chapman proposed outdoorsmen try counting instead of shooting. During the first Christmas Bird Count, 27 birders counted 18,500 birds in 25 locations; in last year’s count, nearly 15,000 people dedicated their time and bird detection skills and counted just under 3 million birds, comprising 285 species. 

So go out there and have yourself a teal-tally, mark a lark, sum a starling, partake in a little cuckoo calculation, and add an avocet. And of course, if you want to support bird habitat in your own backyard (it makes that bird count all the more convenient), we’ve got you covered:

3 Easy Ways to Support Birds Through Winter 

10 Great Tips for Feeding Backyard Birds

The Easiest Way to Bring Birds to Your Garden