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114th Christmas Bird Count Set for Saturday

Get your binoculars ready, because the 114th annual Christmas bird count is set for Dec. 28 in Pittsburgh.

Before 1900, the Christmas “Side Hunt” was a popular American tradition where participants competed to see who could shoot and kill the most fowl. In opposition to the practice, ornithologist Frank Chapman created the Christmas Bird Census.

In its first year, 27 bird watchers from cities such as Toronto and Pacific Grove, California tallied about 90 bird species.

Now, the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania (ASWP), which organizes the event for the Pittsburgh region, is continuing the tradition.

Chris Kubiak, an ASWP development associate, said the organization is trying to expand its reach this year.

“As one of the largest Audubon societies in the entire country, we are spearheading and overseeing a large number of the counts here in western Pennsylvania,” he said. “One thing that we’re doing this year is we’re actually initiating the first South Butler CBC (Christmas bird count).”

Kubiak said those interested in participating in this year’s count should register with the Audubon society to ensure an accurate count. Training sessions are available through the organization that covers the basics of bird watching.

Kubiak said the Christmas bird count allows anyone to take part in a large scale scientific study.

“By getting thousands of people across the country,” he said, “you’re about to really increase the data set for the scientists and it gives them a more comprehensive picture of what’s happening in real time in bird populations across the United States.”

Each count begins at midnight and ends at midnight the following day, but bird watchers can count as long as they’d like.

Kubiak said participants can count in predetermined watch areas or their own backyards.

“It’s just a really fun way to get outside during the holidays and help us get a good picture of our environment,” he said.