December 14th was the start of the 115th Annual National Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC). The count runs from 14 December to 5 January every year. According to the National Audubon Society, this count is the longest-running citizen science survey in the world, providing critical data on bird population trends.

The Homer CBC is December 20th, which just happens to be the day before the shortest day of the year. That means we will have around six (yes, six) hours of daylight (not counting dawn and dusk) to find as many different bird species as we can within the count area. What is the count area? A 15 mile diameter circle whose center is Mud Bay near the Homer Spit. Dave Erikson, the Homer CBC data compiler for the past 38 years, has divided up the count area to make it more manageable considering the short period of daylight available to find birds. Oh and weather makes a difference too. If we have a beautiful sunny day (rare), then we have more light available for finding birds. If it is snowing or raining (both are possible), then the birds become harder to find. Do you blame them?

What type of birds you will see during the Homer Christmas Bird Count will depend on the area you are assigned to help count.  If you are near the water, you may observe waterfowl, eagles, buntings, sandpipers, in addition to landbirds.  If you are inland, typical birds will be grosbeaks, chickadees, crossbills, juncos, jays, redpolls, and waxwings.  And we cannot forget the ubiquitous Northwestern Crows and Common Ravens.  Here are a few common birds you might see.

Pine Grosbeak

Pine Grosbeak


Northwestern Crow


Harlequin Ducks

Black Scoters

Black Scoters

Not going to be in the Homer area for the Christmas Bird Count?  There are over 2300 different CBC count areas to choose from.  In 2012, I participated in the Christmas Bird Count at Midway National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). The main island – Sand Island – is where the count occurred and this count area was also divided up to make counting easier since we were on foot and bicycle. The birds observed included shorebirds, ducks, boobies, petrels, frigatebirds, terns, and of course albatross – all quite different from the birds observed in other Christmas Bird Counts in which I have participated. In my count area, my fellow counter and I counted 98 frigatebirds, which was quite a sight.  I was at Midway NWR as a part of team counting Laysan and Black-footed Albatross nests during a three week period in late December, early January.  This was an experience of a life-time.


Laysan Albatross


Short-tailed Albatross


Ruddy Turnstone


Laysan Duck


Red-footed Booby


Great Frigatebird

I have also participated in several Christmas Bird Counts in the Sedona Arizona area. It was fun to see birds such as Greater Roadrunners, Black-throated Sparrows, Northern Cardinals, and more – birds we typically do not see in Alaska. On these counts our group alone would generally spot 60 -80 different species. In Homer, generally 60 different species are observed in the entire count area, not just one’s little sub area. Our numbers would definitely be different if we did this count during the summer months when birds flock to Alaska to breed.  Here are a few photos of birds typically observed during the CBC in Arizona.


Northern Cardinal


Rufous-sided Towhee


Immature Cooper’s Hawk


Black-throated Sparrow

Don’t feel like leaving your home on a cold (or hot) day to participate? If you live within a count circle, you can count the birds at your feeder on count day and submit the information to your local CBC compiler. However, you do need to contact your local Compiler in advance of the count day to arrange to participate.  So who is your local compiler?  Check the National Audubon Society website and find a count area and compiler near you:

Wherever you are during the Christmas Bird Count season, I hope you will participate in this event. You don’t have to be an experienced birder. In fact, you may find you learn a lot from those on your team about the birds you are observing and counting, and have fun too.

If you will be in Homer during our Christmas Bird Count (December 20th), come to the Islands and Ocean Visitor Center (IOVC) at 8:30 am, where you will be assigned to a team. There will also be coffee, tea, and breakfast goodies to help get you started. At 4:30 pm the teams will meet back at the IOVC to report the birds observed, turn in tally sheets, and share a potluck dinner.

Have a great count and remember, it’s always a great day to bird.