This holiday season, while many Vermonters are gathering with friends and family to share in a feast or exchange gifts, Vermont’s birders will be out in the woods looking for their favorite species. They are participating in a hundred-year-old tradition called the Christmas Bird Count.

“This is something that I’ve been participating in since 1980 and it’s a lot of fun” said Vermont Fish & Wildlife biologist Steve Parren. “You can see some cool species like horned grebes or red-bellied woodpeckers.”

The Christmas Bird Count originated in 1900 with ornithologist Frank Chapman. It stemmed from a tradition of conducting Christmas morning hunts in which participants competed to see how many birds they could collect. Chapman, an officer in the Audubon Society, changed the focus from collecting birds to a census of the wintering locations of various bird species. The Count started with just 27 observers and has grown to become one of the largest birding events in the world, with tens of thousands of people participating every year.

In Vermont, there are more than a dozen count areas where birders gather together to conduct the Christmas Bird Count. According to Parren, participants in some Vermont count areas compete with others to see who can spot more birds, and there are even long-standing friendly rivalries between some sites. The events began on December 15 and run through January 4. The dates and contract information for each event are listed on the Vermont eBird website at

This winter in particular should see a high number of species counted. Scientists are saying that many species are migrating beyond their normal range due to low food availability, a process referred to as a bird irruption.

“The Christmas Bird Count is one of the longest-running citizen science projects in the country and possibly in the world,” said Mark LaBarr, of Audubon Vermont. “Not only does it provide critical data for scientists, but it’s also a great time for folks who participate.”

You can participate in the event even if you are new to birdwatching because every event is led by an experienced birder. Event organizers and active participants include birders and biologists from groups such as Audubon Vermont, Middlebury College, the North Branch Nature Center, the Northwoods Stewardship Center, and the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department.

“People who actively interact with wildlife, whether it’s watching birds or putting out a backyard bird feeder or going out and hunting moose seem to have a deeper connection with nature,” added Parren. “To do these things, you need to care about wildlife on some level.”

So if you’re looking for a fun way to see wildlife and participate in citizen science this holiday season, grab your binoculars and join in on 113th annual Christmas Bird Count.

Image courtesy Vermont Fish and Wildlife

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