ACTIVITIES Culture in the Vail Valley

Christmas Bird Count


An array of Christmas holiday perennials has ruled for more than two centuries:  the dreaded fruitcake, leafy mistletoe, fig pudding, cookies for Santa, a line of stockings hung by the fireplace and, the most obvious, the Christmas tree – which, by the way, originated with German Lutherans who brought it to Pennsylvania in the 1820s when they began to immigrate to the United States. At the turn of the century, another Christmas holiday custom began. At the time, many scientists observed declining bird populations. So, in 1900, on Christmas Day, ornithologist, Frank Chapman, an officer of the nascent Audubon Society, suggested a new observance – the “Christmas Bird Census.” As the story goes, Chapman proposed the census, or count, to squelch the traditional Christmas “Side Hunt,” in which those who brought in the biggest pile of “feathered friends,” were given a prize.

And so began the Christmas Bird Count (CBC). The 27 enthusiastic birders who participated that day, mostly in cities of northeastern North America, tallied around 90 species on their combined counts.

Over the past century, the data collected by these bird counts has allowed scientists to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America. As well, it provides a picture of how bird populations have changed over the past hundred years.

JoAnn Potter, coordinator of the Christmas Bird Count Circle for Eagle, is responsible for the collection all the area’s data and sending the information to the Audubon Society.

“We split the initial group of people into five groups as we have five areas within our ‘circle’,” Potter explains. “Generally it’s an area, say, up Brush Creek Road into Fall Creek or the Town of Gypsum into Gypsum Park or to a certain milepost.

“At times, it’s somewhat limited because of the snow. We walk or drive. And we count everything we see. What’s more, if you’re not an experienced birdwatcher, we’ll put you with someone who is.”

According to Potter, what is seen depends a lot on the weather. Last year, Bald and Golden Eagles as well as Red Tail and Ferruginous Hawks were spotted.

“If it’s a really harsh winter, birds will keep moving south and when     it’s mild, birds will hang out if they can find food,” Potter says.

In its 2012 report, the Environmental Protection Agency included Audubon’s CBC data as one of 26 indicators of climate change. In its “WatchList 2007,” the CBC identified 178 rare species in the continental U.S. and 30 in Hawaii that are in danger.

The good news: The Bald Eagle is back!


If you wish to participate in this year’s Christmas Bird Count,
please call JoAnn Potter at 970-390-6171 or email,