The Christmas Bird Count is an annual census that anyone can participate in that tracks changes in bird populations. Counts have happened in as many as 17 countries involving more than 50,000 people, and it’s not too late to take part in one in Missouri.

Some snowy owls, rare in Missouri, were recorded in the state during last year’s Christmas Bird Count. (Photo courtesy: Linda Williams, Missouri Department of Conservation.)

Randy Korotev is a research professor a Washington University and a state editor for the Christmas Bird Count. He says the event logs all kinds of birds in “Bird Count Circles” of a 15-mile radius around a certain point.

“We usually do it in parties where there’s 2 or 3 people. You keep track of how much time you’re out there, how many miles you drive, how many miles you work, and then it’s all normalized by party hours. So, if you see 300 crows and you spent 8 hours looking, that’s 300 over 8 party-hours. It’s not so much the idea to count every bird … it’s consistent that you do it from year-to-year so that you can see changes.”

Last year, Korotev says nearly 30 counts took place in Missouri.

“There were snowy owls seen on a couple of counts, which was exciting. Here in St. Louis we’re always watching the rivers … it’s always fun to count how many bald eagles you can find along the rivers.”

Korotev says he’s been watching how populations have shifted.

“One of the things that has changed very much in the last 30 years since I’ve been doing this here is the number of trumpeter swans that we’re getting, and that’s one of those success stories.”

Korotev says around St. Louis, counters watch for an Asian tree sparrow, and says each year eastern bluebirds seem to increase in number.

“Hawk numbers of all species are staying the same or going up. What we see less of are some of these grassland birds. I’d say meadowlarks, for example, we don’t see.”

The Count began on Christmas Day in 1900 at the suggestion of ornithologist Frank Chapman, who suggested it as a way to replace so-called “side hunts” in which people competed to see how many birds they could kill. Chapman proposed counting rather than killing.

The Christmas Bird Count season is between December 14 and January 5 each year. To find out more or to joint a Count, visit the National Audubon Society’s webpage.