Calling All CBC Yard Watchers

By Ryan Nakano

Every year Golden Gate Bird Alliance organizes Christmas Bird Counts, providing fun and exciting opportunities for people living in the Bay Area to contribute to community science. Originally pitched by conservationist Frank Chapman back in 1900 as an alternative to Christmas bird hunts, the Christmas Bird Count has been a beloved annual event organized by the National Audubon Society for 123 years.

This year, our independent chapter is hosting three counts; Oakland, SF and Richmond, and we’re excited to have so many interested birders of all experience levels already registered for each upcoming count. While many registrants will soon be assigned to an area leader (if they haven’t already), sent information about where and when to meet, and mentally preparing for the day-long adventure of striking out with a group of equally impassioned birders to count all the birds they see within their assigned area, some are ready to kick back relax and count from home.

These are our Feeder or Yard watchers, and you could be one of them!

Because each count is built on the premise of counting up all the birds within a 15 mile count circle, one space that is completely essential but often overlooked is our own backyards…front yards…sideyards… or more generally, on the properties of the places we live.

And there are many reasons why you might want to participate in this way. Maybe it’s generally easier for you to count from home. Or maybe, group birding just isn’t your speed. Maybe your time is limited on the day of each count but you’re still wanting to participate and help ID. Whatever the reasons, I want to make an appeal and an argument for being a Yard Watcher this season.

First and foremost, it takes very little time and effort to contribute valuable data to the Christmas Bird Count.

Got 15 minutes to spare on count day? Find a cozy spot with a view at home, record the maximum number of individuals in each species you see at any one time, log your start and end time and submit your data to us through our Count Forms (Oakland, SF, Richmond). That’s it!

Secondly, even though you won’t be out in the field, you don’t have to go it alone. Share the experience with your kids, significant other, members of your family, roommates, housemates, or whoever else you might live with and note their participation in your data so we know it was a team effort. Of course, if you live alone, know that there will be many other feeder watchers counting from their homes on the same day.

Recently, some of my favorite birding experiences have taken place at home. Early in the morning with a mug of coffee and my expert bird-watching cat at my side, I’ve made a habit of pulling back the curtains to see which visitors have blessed us with their presence for the day. I point to each bird, lately an Oak Titmouse, a Townsend’s Warbler, a pair of Chestnut-backed Chickadees. They flit between the branches of trees between apartment buildings. I leave the cat in a trance. I come back, we watch some more. I want to say that this kind of observation provides a more “go at your own pace” experience, but I think this would be incorrect. In this version, there is no “go” or “going”. Which brings me to the more philosophical reason for considering participation as a yard/feeder watcher.

While being out in the field with a group of passionate birders reminds us to appreciate the importance of camaraderie and cooperation with each other, participation as a feeder watcher drives home (pun intended) the message that these birds are literally our neighbors and acknowledging them as such (in this case through census) is a healthy activity to practice throughout our day-to-day.

Interested in being a yard/feeder watcher this year for the Christmas Bird Count?

As long as you live within a count circle (see count maps below), you can participate in that count by observing birds from your home on count day and logging your results through the following forms.

Happy Birding!

Oakland CBC (Sunday December 18th)

Oakland CBC Circle Map

San Francisco CBC (Tuesday December 27) 

SF CBC Circle Map

Richmond CBC (Sunday January 1)

Richmond CBC Circle Map