Tree sparrow counted in the field. Credit: Tamima Itani

Expect to hear these bird calls Monday.

“There’s a brown creeper climbing up that oak!” 

“Another over there on that hickory!” 

“Two chickadees on that bush!”

“Blue jay flying over!” 

“A flock of robins!”

“A dozen mallards at the edge of the pond.”

“Four hooded mergansers at the bank of the channel!”

Downy Woodpecker winter refuge in a bird box. Credit: Tamima Itani

This is the Evanston North Shore Bird Club’s annual Christmas Bird Count, which will take place Dec. 26 no matter the weather.

Over the river, through the woods and in the fields, prairies, pond banks, school campuses and other bird habitats, groups of skilled birders in Evanston and other North Shore communities will be calling out birds they see as they survey their assigned territories

The count is the premier bird community science project, originated by the National Audubon Society and going for 123 years. There are counts all over the country and four at different dates in the Chicago area. It starts before daybreak to look for the owls, and generally ends by 4 p.m.  

Mourning dove at heated bird bath. Credit: Tamima Itani

Not everyone is out in the cold. People who have installed feeders in their yards participate while keeping warm; they count the birds visiting their feeders and bird baths, carefully making sure to only record birds first seen simultaneously, not birds that continue to visit throughout the day unless it is a new species.

The compiler collates group reports and announces them at the group’s Countdown Zoom.

Downy woodpecker at feeder. Credit: Tamima Itani

Bird species are called in order, numbers seen are tabulated, and comparisons made over the last 50-plus years that the Evanston North Shore Bird Club has been sponsoring the local count. 

Data from counts all over the country are sent to a central repository at the National Audubon Society. They are combined with Breeding Bird Surveys and other reports to indicate the status of today’s birds. 

The Audubon Society website explains it: “Audubon CBC data are also used to measure how birds are already responding to climate change. A 2022 Audubon study used 90 years of Christmas Bird Count data to show how birds have shifted amid a century of major environmental changes. By tracking how bird ranges have moved over time, conservation efforts can be prioritized in areas that are important for birds today and in a climate-altered future.”

Libby Hill

Libby Hill is the author of "The Chicago River: a Natural and Unnatural History. She has been writing about birds and trees and Evanston's natural history for the Roundtable since 2004.

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