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Cornelius’ Corner: “Christmas Bird Count”

Hi friends – Cornelius here! Thanks for coming back to read another one of my blogs. Today my post features an interview with Chris Weaver, the owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Glen Mills, PA. Chris leads the annual Christmas Bird Count every year at the Newlin Grist Mill Park!

Before we get into the Q & A… a little background on the history of bird counts.

Dark-Eyed Junco

The origins of the Christmas Bird Count can be found back in the 20th century. Before they became counts, participants would go hunting on Christmas Day. They called this hunt the “Side Hunt,” and the goal was to kill as many quarries as possible out in the fields.

Beginning on Christmas Day 1900, ornithologist Frank M. Chapman, an early officer in the then-new Audubon Society, proposed a new holiday tradition—a “Christmas Bird Census” that would count birds during the holidays rather than hunt them, because observers and scientists were worried that this annual hunt was killing off too many bird species. That year, 27 people participated and 25 Christmas Bird Counts were held that day. Additionally, people from Canada all the way to northeastern North America also participated in their own bird counts.

The purpose of the bird count is to evaluate each bird species’ health and to provide data that can guide conservation efforts accordingly. By comparing current data with past data, observers are able to identify changes in bird populations, such as population size changes and range shifts. How many counts are present in the world today?

At the Newlin Grist Mill, the counts are organized into 15-mile-diameter circles located around a central point. From there, each circle is assigned to teams in individual zones. The end of the day is often celebrated with a Tally Rally where teams meet to share their findings. The park also participates with the West Chester circle.

Cornelius: How long has the Newlin Grist Mill participated in the bird count?

Chris: For the last five years, since I started assisting with the bird walks at the park.

Cornelius: Where in the park do you look for birds each year?

Chris: We start at the Visitor Center, head southwest on the old rail trail following Chester Creek all the way up to the confluence of Concord Creek. We continue up Concord Creek in the low-lying field and start circling back up to higher ground where the old YMCA used to be. We then start heading east-southeast back across the open YMCA field and head into the woods and eventually back into another open field that has all the bluebird boxes and old California Redwoods. We will then cut through the old Christmas tree farm, heading north and downhill towards the millrace and follow the race up to Cheyney Road. We then cross Cheyney Road, walk past the Grist Mill and the Trimble House and follow the path along Chester Creek until the end of the property. It’s approximately a 2.5-mile round-trip and takes about two plus hours to complete.

Cornelius: Over the years, what kind of trends or variations have you noticed in the data?

Chris: It’s usually very cold! Sometimes rain, sometimes snow, but usually some form of precipitation. We tend to see a lot of robins hanging out in the western part of the park. They seem to like to over-winter on the property. The counts have been pretty consistent with the same cast of characters every year: various woodpeckers, sparrows, robins and raptors – including a Barred Owl at times!

Cornelius: How many volunteers participate yearly?

Chris: Due to the typically miserable weather during the count, I have counted alone a few times, but I often have a counting buddy with me. We certainly welcome other participants! The more the merrier and better the count!

Cornelius: How do the volunteers help count the birds?

Chris: We have various tools to help us identify the birds, with the main one being me (Chris), the leader. I also rely on other experienced birders and the Merlin Bird ID app from the Cornell Ornithology Lab. For each walk we do we strive to make it educational and fun for all.

In order to participate, Chris said you don’t need to already be familiar with the birds! Just come dressed comfortably and be ready to observe and detect movement. This year, the count will take place on Saturday, December 18th, starting at 9am.

To get involved, email park Naturalist Jessica Shahan at

Thanks for reading my blog! Stay tuned for more posts. See you at the Grist Mill!

– Cornelius


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