History of the Christmas Bird Count

This year, the National Audubon Society will celebrate 115 years of dedicated individuals leaving the warmth of their homes to gather data on bird populations through the annual Christmas Bird Count.

It is a tradition whose purpose today has not strayed from its original intentions and has only grown in significance as the need for conservation of bird habitats increases.

It was Christmas Day in the year 1900 when ornithologist Frank Chapman proposed a new holiday custom to steer away from the popular “Christmas Side Hunt” tradition. In that tradition, individuals chose sides, went out into the wilderness with their guns, and the group that brought back the biggest pile of kill won. This was at a time when conservation efforts were beginning across the country and scientists and observers regularly expressed concern over declining bird populations.

Chapman’s proposal was a far stretch from the “Side Hunt” tradition: rather than hunt the birds, why not count them? As far out as the idea sounds to such an established tradition, it stuck and the Christmas Bird Count was born.

On Christmas Day 1900, 27 counters participated in the inaugural Christmas Bird Count, which boasted a total of 25 counts ranging from Toronto, Ontario to Pacific Grove, California. A total of 18,500 birds, accounting for 90 species, were counted that day.

By 2008, the Christmas Bird Count boasted 2,113 Count Circles and just shy of 60,000 participants. It runs from Dec. 14 through Jan. 5 every year.

Source: National Audubon Society,

Five Christmas Bird Counts will take place in Door County this year: Ephraim, Dec. 14; Brussels, Dec. 14; Northern Door, Dec. 14; Sturgeon Bay, Dec. 20; and Washington Island, Dec. 14.