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NatureSpeak Articles

Whistler’s 2023 Annual Christmas Bird Count


A female pine grosbeak feasts on berries, a favourite bird to spot on the Christmas bird count. Photo credit: Bev Hill

There is a twitter amongst the local birders-something is in the air.


December 14th is the start of the Christmas Bird Count (CBC). This year will be the 124th count for the annual Audubon Christmas Counts. In 1900, Frank Chapman and twenty-six other conservationists got together to create a community event to enlist people to experience nature during the cold winter months. The focus of CBC is on ornithological research, citizen science and conservation. This project is the longest running citizen science project! All the cumulative historical data is stored and available on Audubon’s website.


The CBC period starts December 14th and goes until January 5th every year. It now has become a birding tradition in North America and is rising in popularity in South America, and Europe. There are now over 2000 Christmas bird counts across the Western Hemisphere. Every Christmas bird count is restricted to a “Count Circle” of 24 km diameter from a set point in an area. A contact person is given for each circle. It is exciting to see so many communities participating and contributing to this mega project.


Birds Canada collects and analyzes the CBC data from counts across Canada. They collate the status of counted birds, the numbers of birds for each species, the highlights, the low lights, as well as the rare and unusual stragglers who may have been blown in by storms, lost in migration or otherwise stranded or chosen to be in winter conditions. The data is forwarded to Audubon.


A male pine grosbeak by Bev Hill

Whistler’s 2021 Christmas Bird Count delighted us by a wintering couple of Anna’s Hummingbirds! A first for Whistler. In 2022, we recorded both species of Crossbills (White-Winged & Red Crossbills). The alpine counters managed to spot one very well camouflaged Ptarmigan-a white bird on white snow and two Clark’s nutcrackers, to the skier’s delight. Annually, Whistler counters spot an average of forty species of birds. Not all birds migrate in winter, many are here for year-round viewing.

All CBC’s are free to participants. As a volunteer field counter, dress warmly, carry water, a lunch and follow a prescribed route. Firstly, register with the compiler, and plan your hike, drive, X-country or a downhill ski and sight birds on December 14th in Whistler. If wandering out in the cold doesn’t suit you - you can stay indoors and do a “Feeder Watch” count and report your sightings to the compiler.


You do not have to be an expert birder, there are many Smartphone Apps to help identify birds. If you see a bird and are unsure of what species it is- snap a photo. Merlin Bird ID is a free app to download which have many features to support a novice birder by uploading your photo for identification or by recording the bird sounds. E Bird is another Smartphone App to help you track your trails, mileage and all while counting your birds by species to delivering your data directly to Cornell University Ornithology for research use. Every bird counts.


If participating in the CBC intrigues you, join in the fun and learn more about the birding community, birding, conservation and add to the historical data collection of the longest stand Citizen Science project! For more information contact Shawn, Whistler’s Christmas Count Compiler at shamas.mason5@gmail.com.


Written by Shawn Mason

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