Annual Christmas Bird Count

Please Participate!

Your First Christmas Bird Count

This year marks the 117th annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) 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 40 years.

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 74 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.

When is it?

The CBC takes place in the Tawas area on December 17.  The Oscoda – AuSable date is December 20.  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 Tawas teams will meet for breakfast at Big Boy Restaurant from 7:00am till 8, then at H’sings for lunch at noon.  The Oscoda team meets at Mama’s Kitchen at 7:00 am till 8, then for lunch at G’s Pizzeria at noon.

How do I get involved?

AuSable Valley Audubon will meet at the East Tawas Community Center on December 13, Tuesday, at 1pm  for a regular meeting which will include planning for the count.  You may also access information on-line at or call 989-362-2522.  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!