Counting Birds for Christmas: Audubon Revives the San Miguel Christmas Bird Count

By Signe Hammer, photo by Bob Graham

Observando aves desde el kayak

People used to shoot birds at Christmas; the person who shot the most birds won. Now, we count live birds instead. Every year, from mid-December to early January, teams of birders in Canada, the US, Mexico, and Central and South America fan out to count, in a single day, all the birds they can find in their area.

San Miguel Christmas Bird Count
Audubon de México Outdoor Activities
Wed, Dec 17, 8am
Meet outside Mega, on covered walkway between parking lots or 415 106 1746
Free: pre-registration necessary

This tradition goes back 115 years, to Christmas Day 1900, when ornithologist Frank Chapman organized 27 birders from Toronto, Ontario to Pacific Grove, California to count birds rather than kill them. The longest running citizen science survey in the world, the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) now involves tens of thousands of participants in over 2,300 “circles”. Everyone has a lot of fun while compiling critical data on bird-population trends.

How does it work? A 15-mile-diameter circle is marked out around the center of each CBC counting area, and teams of birders count within that area on a single day. There are many circles in Mexico, and we used to do a count here. This year, Audubon de México is sponsoring a trial run. If it works, we’ll continue it every year.

Why do it? In addition to getting outside and having fun, the teams compile their bird-count numbers and enter them online. This data, combined with other bird counts throughout the year, enables researchers to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across the Americas. Combined with other surveys, CBC data provides a picture of how bird populations have been changing.

CBC data was key to Audubon’s recent Birds and Climate Change Report, which predicts that, due to global warming, more than half of North America’s bird species will be forced out of their current breeding and living ranges. From CBC reports, we know that American Kestrels, the small, colorful falcons we see outside of town, are in steep decline. But, thanks to CBC data, we know that the bright-red-faced House Finches that warble cheerily from trees around town have been increasing their range.

So whether you’re an experienced or novice birder, come help us count birds on December 17. We’ll focus on three locations: El Charco del Ingenio, our beautiful botanical garden; the Presa Allende in kayaks (limited to 8-10); and a richly varied site along the Rio Laja, near the bridge on the new road to Guanajuato.

We’ll meet at 8am on the covered walkway between Mega parking lots, form teams and carpool to the sites. So if you have a car, please bring it. Wear sturdy walking shoes and bring water and a hat. We’ll have telescopes and a few pairs of binoculars to lend. We’ll count for about three hours, starting at about 9am. You should be back by about 12:30, happy with your contribution to citizen science!


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