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Christmas Bird Counts

Dec 07, 2015

An early American holiday tradition was the annual Christmas bird hunt. Participants competed to count the most wild birds. Today, the Christmas Bird Count is a popular tradition around in the United States.

The Christmas Bird Count is the longest-running citizen-science effort in the United States. On a single day between December 14 and January 5, birders and scientists across the country count all of the birds seen from before sunrise to after sunset in their search area. Lead by the Audubon Society, the counts provide a snapshot of birds’ winter locations.

On a count, participants go afield for one day and list the number of individuals of each species they see. Their findings, when gathered together, answer questions such as, “How are the bluebirds doing?” and “What new birds are showing up?” Last year, more than 68 million individual birds and 600 bird species were counted in the U.S. and Canada.

The success of the counts depends on where they are located. Counters in south Texas would be disappointed if they didn’t record 200 species. By comparison, six countries in the Yukon once spent all day and listed only three birds–all ravens.

In the Central U.S. there are plenty of birds to keep counters busy. Look for announcements of the counts in newspapers and social media. You don’t need to be an expert to have an unforgettable outing.

The folks at the Audubon Society have curated this map that allows you to see the Christmas Bird Count circles across the nation, with contact information. Check it out!

Birding Tools

  • Binoculars: Look for a right eyepiece that focuses to adjust for individual eye differences, plus central focusing to adjust for various distances. Most popular magnification strength among experienced birders is either 7 x 35 or 8 x 40. Those larger than 10 x 50 tend to be overly bulky and difficult to hold steadily.
  • Bird ID Guidebooks: Our online field guide is a good place to start identifying birds you see in Missouri. We also recommend getting a couple of good print field guides.
  • Bird song recordings: Learning bird songs will quickly expand your ability to distinguish one species from another. Song differences are also the best way to identify certain look-alike species, such as alder and willow flycatchers.
  • Spotting scopes are popular with most advanced birders and are typically designed to magnify an object 20 to 60 times.

Learn more about birding in the MDC Field Guide.


Photo of a ring-necked pheasant cock in flight.
Ring-Necked Pheasant Cock in Flight
Pheasants and their relatives evade predators by making sudden, explosive bursts of flight.


An ornithologist instructs a group of schoolchildren how to birdwatch. Several of the children are holding binoculars.
Robinson Birding

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