Christmas Bird Count: From Killing to Counting

Christmas Bird Count -- the early years.

Christmas Bird Count — the early years.

This is Passport to Texas

No 19th Century American hunting family’s Christmas was complete without taking to forests and fields to binge kill birds and other woodland creatures, called the Christmas Side Hunt.

You competed against neighbors [to see] who had the biggest pile of birds.

Nongame ornithologist, Cliff Shackelford, says no feathered animal was off limits in this competition of carnage.

We’re not talking about things you eat. We’re talking about all birds. Even predators like owls and hawks. Songbirds. Just wasted.

It was the early days of conservation then, and scientists and bird lovers, alike, expressed their concern.

The bird people said: ‘This is not sustainable. Let’s try something different. Let’s get people out with binoculars, and count birds, and maybe compare numbers on a datasheet, instead of piles of dead birds.

Frank Chapman, an early ornithologist and officer of a new organization called the Audubon Society, proposed The Christmas Bird Census for a new century.

So that’s how the Christmas Bird Count came about 118 years ago.

There were 25 Christmas Bird Counts the first year, with 90 species tallied on all counts combined. It continues even now, and we tell you how to get involved next week.

The Wildlife Restoration program supports our series.

For Texas Parks and Wildlife, I’m Cecilia Nasti.

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