top of page

Can't find what you are looking for?

A Christmas Bird Count Story - Part 1

Thanksgiving food may be filling your belly, but it's never too early to think about Christmas Bird Count season arriving. Thus, it is time for me to relive an embarrassing birding experience from my college days.

Let's just say... undershirts have never proven more valuable to me...

Look at Zach in the spirit for Christmas Bird Counting!
Look at Zach in the spirit of Christmas Bird Counting! (Because I'm wearing an undershirt in this photo. You'll get it by the end.)

Want to laugh at my expense more often? Join the flock!

Want to join a Christmas Bird Count? Join the count!

My First Christmas Bird Count

I was coming into Christmas break in my junior year at Northwest Missouri State University. I had been seeing signs all week to volunteer in the Maryville Christmas Bird Count (CBC) and to contact our ecology advisor to participate. I did not know what participating entailed, but I stopped by his office on the last day of finals. He gave me a hearty slap on the back and told me where to meet and what to bring. I was nervous. He said bird guide and binoculars, but all I had was a bird encyclopedia and a $25 pair of Wal-Mart camouflage binoculars (a childhood birthday present intended for hunting with my father). Clearly, I was out of my league.

We met before sunrise on that December morning inside a McDonald’s. (This is a much more critical detail than you might realize at this point.) I unwisely ate breakfast at the fast-food joint, as I was a college student who preferred to sleep in and not make breakfast. This decision meant little now but would haunt me hours later. I was assigned to tally the northern area of our circle and departed with my professor’s former student.

The theme for that morning is easily understood. I did not know birds. That is really all there is to say. I could not tell a nuthatch from a nutcracker at that moment in my life.

The Ride of a Lifetime

In the afternoon, the former student had to leave the count, and I was to be the recorder for my professor. This is where the story takes flight. I need to clarify this first: I have never been car sick in my entire life. However, this was my first time riding with my professor, who I will call Doc moving forward. Doc took the Christmas Bird Count very seriously. More than anyone I have met since. We were a lightning bolt between every power line, tree line, and watering hole. That Ford Taurus had never been put through rigors like this. It existed in a plane of all gas, then all BRAKE.

Greater White-fronted Goose with Cackling Geese
Greater White-fronted Goose with Cackling Geese

One sudden stop, in particular, things turned south for my stomach and me. While visiting the local sewage lagoons, Doc drove the dikes between the ponds with great haste and slick maneuvers. However, between McDonald’s breakfast and this new style of driving (I have now adopted this style), I was in need of a rest stop. Unfortunately, Doc did not have any stops planned, and when it is the Christmas Bird Count, we stick to the schedule.

While Doc picked a Greater White-fronted Goose out of a flock of Canada Goose, I used a fence post and performed the “bears in the woods” task. At 90% completion, I realized what no birder should ever hope to. I was without the soft, white rolls of hope that bless our in-home commodes (it is a toilet paper joke). I was in an awkward position. Literally. Dare I yell out to Doc about my predicament and forever seal my fate as THAT new birder? No. I adapt! My college education kicked into gear, and I realized I had worn an extra undershirt that day in response to the low temperature. I will let you fill in the details from here.

Okay, one final detail. That soiled and spoiled undershirt was buried in the most unfortunate snow drift in the wilds of northwest Missouri. To whoever found this shirt when that icy maw thawed, I am genuinely sorry. And now, I pack out whatever I pack in.

This was a Potty Story

Nothing else to see here, folks. Move along. Did you make it? Good. Me too. This was not the end of the story for my first Christmas Bird Count, but this is where I stop writing for today's story. Goodbye for now, and always remember the Charmin (ultra absorbent).

Toilet Paper is an essential birdwatching tool.

Why YOU Should Attend a Christmas Bird Count in 2022!

While this story may seem horrifying, it actually sparked a love for birds that led me to create a whole website dedicated to it. Attend a count this year, make new friends, and create your own memories to carry with you into the New Year!


To learn more about the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, click the link! Follow the following links to continue the story in Part 2 and Part 3!

1 Comment

Ellis Hein
Ellis Hein
Nov 29, 2019

There are strange things done in the midnight sun By the men who moil for [ uh...birds]; The Arctic trails have their secret tales That would make your blood run cold; The Northern Lights have seen queer sights, But the queerest they ever did see...

I don't suppose Missouri qualifies to be part of the land of the midnight sun, but this tale could be right up there with the Cremation of Sam McGee. All the Christmas Bird Counts I have been on have only made my blood run cold because the thermometer refused to register higher. But they have all been enjoyable.

Zach is showing off gear and encouraging visitors to check out his favorite gear on his Amazon Associate page.

Bird & Wildlife Articles

Check out all of our bird and wildlife topics by using the menus below!

Send a Thank You!

Love the free information we provide? Send us a thank you by donating to our flocking efforts!

Select a Donation ($):

Thanks for your support!!

bottom of page