Christmas is for counting birds

Looking for a different way to enjoy birds and the outdoors with a fun group during the holidays? Why not try the Audubon Christmas Bird Count in one of the three local count circles?


The Christmas Bird Count is a century-old event hosted by the National Audubon Society. It’s grown to be an international activity in which even novice birdwatchers can join in the collection of local bird data.

The CBC process revolves around the concept that, for one midnight-to midnight period, a group of birders will try to identify as many bird species and to count as many birds as possible within a fixed 15-mile diameter circle. A local “compiler” organizes the effort, assigns teams to check certain areas, and collates the data for submission to NAS. Each year’s counts are done within a few weeks in December and early January. Many of these counts have been done for decades!

There are five local CBC circles. These are:

  • Chattahoochee National Forest/Songbird Management Area – December 15
  • Carters Lake – January 2
  • Amicalola Falls – January 3
  • Dalton – To be scheduled
  • Blue Ridge – To be scheduled.

The Chattahoochee NF count is centered on the southwest corner of the Cohutta Wilderness, which is just to the west of the Mountaintown drainage. Indeed, part of its circle covers Mountaintown. The Carters Lake count focuses on a point near the lake. Amicalola Falls is centered on a spot to the south of Amicalola Falls State Park. The Dalton count was centered on a point northeast of downtown.

Some quick local CBC facts:

  • The Dalton and Chattahoochee counts have been done for many, many years. The CBC data site indicates that there are results for the Dalton circle as far back as 1942. I believe that Dalton was started by Ann Hamilton
  • One of Hamilton’s protegees, Harriett DiGiola, assumed responsibility for the Dalton CBC and also compiled the the Chattahoochee count
  • Years later, Harriett’s own proteges, Phil Riner and Josh Spence, compiled the Dalton CBC and the Carters CBC, respectively
  • The Amicalola CBC is compiled by renowned ornithologist Georgann Schmalz and local birder Theresa Hartz
  • The Blue Ridge CBC is compiled by Tom Striker, birder and a co-owner of Blue Ridge Bird Seed Company.

Participation requires no experience. You only need a pair of binoculars, some warm clothes, and a desire to have fun while working with more experienced birders. Contact one of the local compilers as soon as possible to get on the roster so you can be assigned with folks with more practice. Pre-registration can be done through the national CBC site. You also don’t have to bird the full 24 hours or even all day. Be sure to let the compiler know how long you’re available. Try to make the the end-of-day round up or “count down,” though. It’s usually a great potluck dinner or a meal at which the different teams turn in their results and swap stories about “best birds” seen or high counts of particular species.

I’ve always found that the CBCs were a great way to learn more about birds and birdwatching with a great group of folks. It’s also a good way to network your way to finding better bird watching sites. Try one this year!



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