Celebrating the season: Cook County’s annual Christmas bird count
Kalli Hawkins

Celebrating the season: Cook County’s annual Christmas bird count

The annual Audubon Christmas bird count is the nation’s longest-running community science bird project. 

The first known Christmas Day bird count in Minnesota was conducted in 1905 in Minneapolis and Red Wing. Since then, volunteers across the entire state have participated in the citizen science project. 

Along the North Shore, the annual mid-Dec. activity is a welcomed holiday tradition for many residents. Each year, a seven-and-a-half-mile radius near Grand Marais is surveyed to observe and document various bird species. 

“This citizen data is really important for looking at bird trends,” said Grand Marais Audubon Christmas Bird Count Compiler Jeremy Ridlbauer in a recent interview with WTIP. 

As Ridlbauer prepares for the annual bird count on Dec. 16, he hopes for good weather, both for the birds and the volunteers. “The weather really dictates a lot of what they’re (birds) doing,” he said. “If we have high winds, there’s not much going on.”

Last year, Ridlbauer and volunteers unfortunately encountered a winter storm during the Dec. 17 bird count, creating significant challenges and a 57 percent reduction in the number of birds recorded. 

While most documented species include Bohemian Waxwings, American Tree Sparrows, and chickadees, now and then, the volunteers witness and document a rare bird species in Grand Marais. 

“We’ve had warblers here for the Christmas count,” Ridlbauer said. “Which is like, you guys got to move on. You’re not going to survive otherwise.” A few other species in the past have lingered into the mid-Dec. season, including Carolina Wren and Brown Thrashers. 

To sign up and participate in the annual Christmas bird count, Ridlbauer said to contact him directly at 218-370-0733 or sundew@boreal.org. “If you’re interested in hiking or doing a driving route or watching your feeder, get a hold of me.” 

WTIP spoke with Jeremy Ridlbauer about the upcoming Audubon Christmas Bird Count in Cook County on Dec. 16. Audio from the interview is below.