NJ’s Christmas Bird Count Is Humane Alternative to Holiday Hunting Tradition

An Englewood bird enthusiast started the event, which has since gained global traction, in 1900. This year's Jersey count will take place December 14-January 5.

Black vulture
Black vultures are among the various species that bird enthusiasts can spot during the 124th Christmas Bird Count. Photo: Courtesy of Rick Wright

A holiday tradition that originated in New Jersey at the turn of the last century will return with the 124th Christmas Bird Count, set for December 14-January 5.

Bird enthusiasts from Sussex to Salem counties will keep track of how many species of birds they see or hear in a designated counting circle over a 24-hour period. “The Christmas Bird Count is a pioneering activity in citizen science,” says Rick Wright, a birder for 45 years and author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New Jersey.

Frank Chapman, an ornithologist from Englewood, is credited with starting the bird count in 1900 as an alternative to the hunting of birds on Christmas, which was popular in the 19th century. The count, a program of the National Audubon Society, has spread to other countries.

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In 2022-23, more than 1,100 people in the state participated in the count at 29 sites, according to William Boyle, who compiles count statistics for New Jersey. He says that the total number of species seen in last year’s counts in New Jersey was 202. But climate change is affecting the numbers and types of birds seen in New Jersey.

“Birds associated with open country are not doing well,” says Wright.

Sign up for the Christmas Bird Count here.

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