A Cold Winter's Day for Christmas Bird Count


Tufted Titmouse in the underbrush at Tinicum NWR in Philadelphia
Tufted Titmouse in the underbrush at Tinicum NWR in Philadelphia

This past Saturday was my first Christmas Bird Count. Overview it was the 112th Audubon sponsored Bird Count since it began.

The day was clear and sunny. The bare brown trees and shrubs had a restful zen quality. A bareness, a wabi-sabi kinda of vibe.

There was a cleansing to the cold breeze. The cloudless sky and bright sun made it a wonderful winter day to be outside.

There are many ways in which the Christmas Bird Count helps birds. When the data from the Christmas Bird Count is combined with that of the Breeding Bird Survey, researchers can figure out how bird populations have changed in different times and places.

The ‘Count’ is finished for this year, but here is what happens in case you want to go help out next year.

Volunteer Citizen Scientists met at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education at 8:30 a.m. The Schuylkill Center has participated in the Christmas Bird Count for the past 60 years. The property is mapped out into sections. Then means there is sixty-years worth of population data for this land in Philadelphia.

There were perhaps a total of twenty-four people participating in the Christmas Bird Count. There were small children with pint-sized binoculars, seasoned birders senior citizens  and teenagers who dared to be different.

We assembled in a room and were briefed as to how to enter data. Then we choose our groups and areas we wanted to cover. Some folks have chosen to tally the same area of the property for years.

After the overview, we stuffed our pockets with free granola bars and fruit and headed off into the chilly morning air. Each group takes a section of the Center property.

Each group traveled with an expert birder. Leigh, the leader of my group, is a woman who knows her birds. She knew the call sounds and sounds of all the birds we were searching for.

Our group’s section was the perimeter of the Schuylkill Center property. We walked along a paved path and tallied the species we heard or saw.

We walked and talked.  And we were  in raptures over a Red-tailed Hawk that perched on a pole and a mixed band of Vultures, both Black and Turkey, that hung out on a tall pylon.

After the count. We all meet back at the Center. Over hot tea, Leigh called out species and groups called out their totals. There was a friendly competition as to what group saw the most of one species. No one spotted the resident Bald Eagle that has been hanging out around the Center this winter.

My little group saw twenty-four species of birds. The combined tally of all the birds spotted came to thirty-seven species and hundreds of individual birds.

My group saw/heard many species including many that visit bird feeders:

  • 1 Red-bellied and 3 Downy Woodpeckers
  • 19 Blue Jays
  • 9 Black Vultures
  • 10 Turkey Vultures
  • 6 Tufted Titmice
  • 5 Carolina Wrens
  • 4 Song Sparrows
  • 100 Red-winged Blackbirds
  • and only 11 House Sparrows

I wish I had seen the eight Eastern Bluebirds that other birders did. And the Snow Goose. But, I had a good day. Not bad for a cool winter’s day in Philadelphia.


  1. Bluebirds are our state bird and frequent visitors to my garden all year…now if I had seen red-winged blackbirds I would have been jumping for joy since they only appear when it is spring…

  2. Do you ever see Eastern Bluebirds up your way? I never see them down here in Delaware County, PA. Maybe I’m not looking in the right places.

    • Hi, Scott
      There are Bluebirds in Fort Washington State Park and at Schuylkill Enviro. Center and if I go where their boxes are I see them in the summer, but I never hear them sing.
      In fact I don’t know if I have ever heard them sing.

      I never thought about it until you pointed that out.

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