The Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count started as an alternative to a holiday tradition: The day after Christmas men would go out with their guns and see who could bring back the largest number of dead birds and animals.
Around the turn of the 20th century, scientists and others were beginning to notice a decline in bird populations. Frank Chapman, an ornithologist and a member of the young Audubon Society, named after the painter and naturalist John James Audubon, proposed that fellow-members should instead count birds without killing them. The first year, he was joined by 25 others, from Toronto to Pacific Grove, who counted about 90 species between them.
Audubon's painting of Passenger Pigeons, now long extinct though once their flocks darkened the skies of North America.
These days, local groups choose a day between December 14 and January 5. Singly or in groups, people count the birds in their gardens and yards, when they walk the dog, in farms, parks local and national, streets, and parking lots (the last being the main habitat of the Brewer's Blackbird, as far as I can see). Then they report their sightings to a local leader, who reports in turn to the Audubon Society. The numbers give a continent-wide picture of the bird population.
I've been doing the Bird Count for several years. I have feeders in my back yard, but what always amazes me is how many species I see on The Day, just because I'm concentrating and making the effort to identify them. Almost every year I see a species new to me.
This year my count includes dark-eyed juncos, fox sparrows, pine siskins, bushtits, goldfinches, housefinches, Townsend's warblers, both black-capped and chestnut-backed chickadees, robins, starlings, house sparrows, white-crowned and golden-crowned sparrows, a spotted towhee, a varied thrush, a downy woodpecker, a Northern flicker, a scrub jay, a yellow-rumped warbler, an osprey (heard, not seen) and a sharp-shinned hawk.
I saw all these while sitting at my computer and peering out of the window, standing up with the binoculars now and then. The hawk made me very nervous, first swooping on the little birds around the feeders, then sitting still in the birch, not a feather moving, waiting for the next opportunity. It was chased off, prey-less, by a pair of squirrels.
If you're interested in having a go next year, this is the place to go: http://birds.audubon.org/get-involved-christmas-bird-count-find-count-near-you
The Great Backyard Bird Count is another chance to be involved, spending as much time or as little as you want:
[I wish I could tell you that I took these wonderful pics, but I found them online, as free-use images.]