Utah Stories from the Beehive Archive

The Christmas Bird Count


Dublin Core


The Christmas Bird Count


Throughout the holiday season, Utahns celebrate by trimming trees, drinking hot chocolate, skiing, and... bird watching? Yep, they do! Learn more about this longstanding Christmas tradition.

In Utah, winter means preparing for the holiday season. But, for some bird-watchers December is a time to get outside! Across the country, the annual Christmas Bird Count sends participants outdoors to track the number of birds they see or hear in order to create a census for birds. Beginning in the early 1900s, visitors and residents throughout Utah braved the snow and cold weather to participate in one of the longest-running citizen science surveys in the country.
Provo hosted Utah’s first Christmas Bird Count in 1903, just three years after the nation’s first count. At the time, bird species across the United States were in danger of extinction due to overhunting and a lack of laws protecting wildlife. Early participants in the bird count wanted to get familiar with resident species and try to document how many living birds were in their area.
The goal of the bird count was simple: count and document as many birds as you see or hear within a fifteen mile radius. Counts occurred over the course of an entire day between December 14th and January 5th. In the following years, towns across Utah joined Provo in the annual bird census. Wrapped in warm clothes, bird-watchers armed themselves with binoculars, notebooks, and pencils, ready to complete their mission. The event was quite popular, with some birders writing into their local newspapers to encourage readers to join their bird-watching groups.
Public lands such as Zion National Park and Dinosaur National Monument began welcoming large groups of bird-watchers. Since the 1960s, Zion officials have released the numbers of bird species found during each Christmas Bird Count. Numbers included observations from St. George, Zion, Kanab, and Pipe Springs. By the 1980s, competitive bird-watchers were showing up to Zion in droves, hoping to complete long wish-lists of bird sightings.
Today, the Christmas Bird Count continues to be a holiday tradition about appreciating and conserving wildlife.  Although urbanization and development have impacted bird populations, Utahns still get outside to count avian friends in backyards, on busy streets, in rural landscapes, or in isolated natural areas. The data continues to provide important information about bird migration, environmental change, and the impact of human activity in Utah.


By Mikee Ferran for Utah Humanities © 2023


Image: “Birders Comb Countryside for Christmas Bird Count,” Salt Lake Tribune, December 26, 1985. The front page of the Salt Lake Tribune’s recreation section promoted the Christmas Bird Count as the “social event of the season” for birders. Results from the count would be compiled into a comprehensive list as part of the Audubon’s citizen scientist survey.

See Makenna Johnson, “The Christmas Bird Count: Connecting to Our Ever Changing Natural World,” Wild About Utah, December 7, 2020; “Christmas Bird Counts in Utah,” Utah Birds; Madelon Regis, “He Covers the Bird Beat,” Salt Lake Tribune, February 26, 1956; “Many Bird Species Observed in Zion National Park,Iron County Record, January 2, 1964;  “Record High Bird Species Found in Southwest Utah,” Iron County Record, January 13, 1966; “Christmas Bird Count to Be At Monument,” Vernal Express, December 1, 1982; “To Show Value of Birds,” Logan Republican, September 8, 1914; “Audubon Society Readies Annual Yule Bird Count,” Salt Lake Times, December 22, 1961.


The Beehive Archive is a production of Utah Humanities. Find sources and the whole collection of past episodes at www.utahhumanities.org/stories.