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NEWS | Dec. 7, 2016

Christmas Bird Count evaluates bird population health

By Alicia M. Garcia 633rd Civil Engineer Squadron

The holidays have a variety of meaning for personnel serving on Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia. However, for one group, the holidays have a less traditional association.

For members of the Hampton Roads Bird Club and volunteers from JBLE, the holiday season is a time for the annual Christmas Bird Count.

The Christmas Bird Count is an annual bird survey that is conducted around the nation by citizen-scientists, researchers and nascent bird watchers. It was established in 1900 by the Audubon Society as an alternative to traditional Christmas hunts.  

During the first Christmas Bird Count in 1900, surveys were held at 25 locations. Since that time, the number of locations participating has increased to 2,462 sites. In order to make data collected from all these sites comparable, all Christmas Bird Count survey areas are circular with a standard 15 mile diameter.   

Langley Air Force Base, Virginia represents an important portion of one survey site due to its shoreline and wetland habitat. This year, the Christmas Bird Count will be held on Dec., 17, 2016 and will represent the 31st survey conducted on the installation.

Early that morning, birders will gather to start the day looking for owls near the nature trail on Langley. They will then join the main group to travel a route with 27 total stops on base. The route traveled has remained the same over the last 30 years, which makes the data gained from the Christmas Bird Count particularly valuable.

Data recorded using a set methodology makes it possible to draw comparisons across years and understand how the local bird population has changed. For example, using the data collected by the Hampton Roads Bird Club, it is possible to determine that an average of 1,663 individual birds representing 54 species are identified each year on Langley during the Christmas Bird Count.

The average number of species has increased slightly since the survey started, but the average number of individuals has dropped. When the data is further evaluated, this drop in the number of individual birds seems to be due to efforts to reduce populations of species such as the European Starling.

The European Starling is an invasive species which poses a threat to both native bird species and aircraft. As habitat is reduced for the European Starling and other invasive species, more habitat may be available for native species. 

A bird count is also conducted on base each spring by the Hampton Roads Bird Club, this count, in combination with the Christmas Bird Count, helps paint a picture of the bird populations found on Langley and provides a valuable tool at both the local and national level for evaluating bird population health.  

More information about the Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Counts around the nation visit

No experience with birding is necessary in order to participate. The Hampton Roads Bird Club welcomes all participants interested in supporting citizen science and learning about local wildlife.

For more information, contact the 633rd Civil Engineer Squadron at 764-1090.