The True Meaning of the Christmas Bird Count

CPW Wildlife Biologist April Estep and volunteer Bobby Day participate in the annual Christmas Bird Count at the United States Air Force Academy.
All photos by © Travis Duncan/CPW

2018 was The Year of the Bird, a year in which Colorado Parks and Wildlife joined organizations like National Geographic, the National Audubon Society, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and BirdLife International to help rally local and worldwide awareness and support for birds and their habitats in honor of the centennial anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

On a personal level, it was the year I really got into birding. I got to put some of my newly acquired birding skills to good use in early January and it felt like a great way to wrap up my own personal Year of the Bird.

On Friday, January 4, I joined CPW Wildlife Biologist April Estep, CPW PIO Bill Vogrin, and volunteer Bobby Day for the annual Christmas Bird Count at the United States Air Force Academy.

The annual Christmas bird count welcomes beginning birders, who are placed in groups with at least one other experienced birder. I had the good fortune to go out with extremely experienced birders.

April and Bobby making a careful count on trail 713.

The data collected by CBC participants over the past 119 years helps inform ornithologists and conservation biologists how the birds of the Americas are faring over time.

I loved listening to the terms my fellow birders used. From calling House Finches “HOFIS” (birders often call out the abbreviation used on bird bands), to discovering what “LBJ” means – Little Brown Jobbers – I soaked in as much as I could. Armed with my first good pair of birding binoculars, even watching common birds like robins and crows was great fun.

And I was proud whenever I was first to call out a bird. I spotted two red-tailed hawks, and plenty of magpies and Steller’s jays. I learned a little bit about juncos and saw my first-ever Townsend Solitaire.

Our group wrapped up the day by checking on a Golden eagle nest that has been empty for the past two years. On this day at least, it did not appear that any eagles were nesting there.

“That whitewash looks old,” Day said, peering through his binoculars.

After the hike back, Estep dropped our bird count numbers off at the Natural Resources building at the Air Force Academy to complete our day of volunteering.

April Estep drops bird count numbers off at the Natural Resources building at the Air Force Academy.

I must not have gotten enough birding because the next day, with good weather in the forecast, I headed down to Fountain’s Clear Spring Ranch, a spot that looked interesting to me from the Colorado Birding Trail. This site has been invaluable to me in finding new spots to go birding.

After a slow start, I managed to spot a red-tailed hawk, three flickers, two ravens, two magpies, a junco, male and female downy woodpeckers, a pigeon, and a white-breasted nuthatch. It was a great start to a new year of birding. My takeaways for getting started in birding would be to invest early in a good pair of binoculars and get out early and often on guided bird hikes. And don’t forget to check out the Colorado Birding Trail to create your own adventures with family and friends!

Colorado Birding Trail Guides
Visit the Colorado Birding Trail website to download
Colorado Birding Northeast, Northwest, Southwest, and Southeast Trail Guides.

Birder Tip: Find guided bird hikes and other great birding opportunities on the Colorado Parks & Wildlife Calendar.


Written by Travis Duncan. Duncan is a public information officer for the Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

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