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ITHACA, N.Y. — The Cayuga Bird Club will hold its 57th annual Christmas Count on Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019. This will be the 119th consecutive year of the survey sponsored by the National Audubon Society! It began at the turn of the last century by ornithologist Frank Chapman when he changed the course of ornithological history on Christmas Day 1900 by proposing an alternative to the traditional “side hunt,” a competition to shoot the most birds possible, and instead started a humane census of birds. The Count has grown into the most intensive wildlife survey in the world, with over 60,000 participants in the U.S, Canada, the Caribbean, Bermuda, West Indies, Pacific Islands and Central and South America.

The Count has become a great tradition combining citizen science with a popular social event. Unusual birds are often seen, and trends in populations, range and environmental health are interpreted through the statistics that have been gathered for over 100 years of holiday birdwatching. Last year, over 56 million birds were counted! The data is compiled and entered into a database at for further intensive study and analysis, becoming a powerful environmental tool.

Ithaca is one of the most enthusiastic of over 2100 groups reporting nationwide and has a high number of participants — usually the largest group in New York State and among the top 12 in the country. The day’s birding can be leisurely, or high-powered and competitive. Beginners as well as experienced birders are welcome to be part of this first version of “citizen science” and can make a real contribution to bird conservation.

Ithaca’s teams will fan out in a 15-mile-diameter circle, 177 square miles, that includes downtown Ithaca and portions of Lansing, Dryden, Freeville, Danby, Brooktondale, Cayuga Heights and up the west side of Cayuga Lake. Volunteers can choose from nine areas, each with their own “hotspots” and birders are to count the number of individual birds seen as well as the number of species. Less experienced birders can team up with better birders, so needn’t be shy about joining the other dedicated people who make this a holiday tradition. You can start at midnight and listen for owls, get up at dawn, or only take a few leisurely hours in the middle of the day. If you’ve never participated and want to join in this important event, here’s your chance. Volunteers are needed! Start off the new year with this great birding experience.

Those who don’t want to venture outside that day can be of help by watching their feeders and noting each different species seen and the largest group of each seen. They should check the club’s website to see what sector of the Count area they live in. This information can be phoned in to the Lab of Ornithology that day between 4 and 6 p.m. by calling 254-2473 (254-BIRD).

You can help in another way — Resolve to fill your feeders on New Year’s Eve ! As count participants drive around on Jan. 1st, they will appreciate seeing all the birds that are attracted to your feeders.

That same evening, participants are invited to the famous dish-to-pass dinner and compilation at the Lab of Ornithology on Sapsucker Woods Rd., starting at 6:00 pm. Look forward to delicious food, and remember to bring a dish-to-pass and also your own place setting.

For information or to volunteer, check our club website at or contact

Featured photo by Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice

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