Count the Birds This Christmas

Think beyond swans a-swimming, geese a-laying, calling birds, French hens and turtledoves—join the Audubon Christmas Bird Count and do your part for citizen science this year.

The Christmas Bird Count is the longest-running wildlife census in the world. Each year, observers tally millions of individual birds, reporting hundreds of different species to the database. This is the 122nd annual Christmas Bird Count season, and the dates are Dec. 14, 2021, through Jan. 5, 2022.

There are numerous opportunities to take part in the Tennessee Valley. TVA employees and the public can sign up for as many counts as they wish—no birdwatching expertise is required.

The annual count is a long-standing “citizen science” program of the National Audubon Society. It is an early-winter bird census, where thousands of volunteers across the U.S., Canada and many countries in the Western Hemisphere go out over a 24-hour period on one calendar day to count birds.

The bird counts are conducted within established 15-mile circles all over the country. Most circles in the TVA region contain some TVA-managed lands. Volunteers sign up for a particular count, then spend that day within the circle, noting all the birds they see.

 “There is a specific way to do it,” explains Damien Simbeck, senior program manager with TVA Natural Resources. “Anyone can take part—you just need to sign up in advance. Volunteers follow specified routes through the circle, counting every bird they see or hear all day. It’s not just a count of any specific type of birds—all birds are counted all day. And don’t worry if you’ve never done this before—if you are a beginning birder, you’ll be able to join a group that includes at least one experienced birdwatcher.”

New Concerns About Vanishing Birds

Recent national studies have revealed troubling losses in the numbers of some bird species. In September 2019, the journal Science reported that the number of birds in the U.S. and Canada has fallen by 29 percent since 1970. That means there are 2.9 billion fewer birds in the skies than there were 50 years ago.

There are likely many causes, including loss of habitat. And the losses affect not just birds known to have been endangered, such as bald eagles, but also common birds such as robins and sparrows.

This is why TVA’s ongoing work to protect and improve bird habitat on its 293,000 acres of managed land is so important.

“We’ve been aware of fluctuations in bird populations here in the Southeast for many years,” says Simbeck. “TVA has been working with numerous partners for a long time to improve and restore many habitat types to benefit a variety of bird species. We have initiatives to improve grassland habitats, short-leaf pine stands, wetlands and bottomland hardwood forests. We also work in many areas to control or remove non-native, invasive plant species and restore native plant communities.

“This is a good year for concerned volunteers to join the Audubon bird count,” adds Simbeck. “You can help us track these numbers.”