Annual Christmas Bird Count

Please Participate!

Your First Christmas Bird Count

The annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) began in 1900.  It is an annual winter census of birds across the Western hemisphere. This bird survey is one of the two largest long-term data sets used to estimate bird population trends.

More generally, the CBC is an event of camaraderie. The CBC is a chance for birders (and non-birders) to come together at the inception of winter in search of every titmouse and snowy owl. Thousands of Michigan birders are loyal participants, but signing up can seem daunting for first-timers. Basic information and compiled answers to frequently asked questions have been gathered here, in hopes of getting new volunteers ready for their first CBC!

What is it?

The CBC is an annual census of birds across the US, Canada, Central and South America. The survey gathers data on the number and distribution of wintering species.  AuSable Valley Audubon members have participated in this survey of birds for over 50 years.  Our first year of participation was around 1970, under the leadership of Peggy Ridgeway.

Why should I participate?

You’ll be contributing to local and international bird conservation, all while reconnecting with old friends or meeting new ones.  You’ll also be learning a lot about bird behavior and identification from your new, or experienced birding friends!

I’m not an expert birder – is that okay?

The CBC welcomes birders of all ages and experience levels. Even if you know nothing about birds, if you can see movement or hear a bird making noise you can be an excellent spotter. The CBC also appreciates non-birders who are willing to drive back-seat birders or keep a tally of observations.

How much does it cost?

In the past, there was a small participant fee but now the survey is completely free; however donations are accepted by the National Audubon Society to maintain the CBC database. If you carpool with others during your survey, you may consider chipping in for gas money.

Where is it?

Surveys take place within established “circles,” each with a 15-mile diameter. While the entire state isn’t covered, Michigan has over 70 CBC circles. The circles are subdivided into smaller sections for the teams to canvas.  Iosco County has two circles, one in the Tawas area, one in Oscoda-AuSable area.  Tawas was the first circle in the count, back in the early 1970’s.  The Oscoda circle was added around 2005.

When is it?

The CBC takes place near Christmas and dates are announced closer to the event.  The count lasts the full day, but you may participate for only a half day. People who live within the ‘circle’ may count birds at their feeders on those days as well.

What can I expect on my first CBC day?

Some hardcore birders begin early to search for owls pre-dawn, but most groups meet in the early morning to assign teams and locations.  The meetings often take place at a local restaurant so those wishing to have breakfast while details are explained may do so.

Each team will survey a designated area within the circle. Teams may walk trails, check bird feeders, or observe from the vehicle as long as they are within the designated circle. The teams meet for breakfast 7:00am till 8, then for lunch at noon.

How do I get involved?

Attend the AuSable Valley Audubon December meeting to sign up or contact Larry VanWagoner.  Although walk-in participants are always welcome, it would be appreciated if you contact Larry before then. That way everyone can be assured a spot in a team that matches their abilities and time allotment.

How can I prepare?

While no preparation is necessary, you may practice your winter bird ID skills or scout survey areas ahead of time to locate potential hotspots.

Pack a supply bag the night before. Some good items to pack include: binoculars, scopes, cameras, cold weather clothes, tissues, water, and/or a thermos of your favorite hot beverage (packed the day of!).

Is it fun?

Owl say!

Rachelle Roake, Conservation Science Coordinator for Michigan Audubon graciously allowed the “customizing” of her  original article which appeared in the 2016 November/December edition of Jack Pine Warbler.   Thank you, Rachelle!

2023 Results

Tawas Circle

The Tawas Circle Bird Count was held on Saturday, December 16, 2023.

  • 48 Species were counted
  • Common Mergansers were most numerous counted
  • Five Cars participated
  • To cover the entire circle, the average distance covered by each car was 60 miles.
  • Data

Oscoda Circle

The Oscoda Circle Bird Count was held on Wednesday, December 20, 2023

  • 51 Species were counted
  • European Starling was most numerous counted
  • Five Cars participated
  • To cover the entire circle, the average distance covered by each car was 60 miles.
  • Data

Interesting finds included:

    1. Great Egret in the Village of AuSable
    2. Great Blue Heron in Oscoda
    3. Greater White-fronted Goose in Oscoda
    4. Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in Tawas
    5. Great-horned Owl in Tawas
    6. Bohemian Waxwing in Tawas
    7. Great Black-backed Gull in Oscoda

Contact:  Larry VanWagoner 989-701-5470

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