The Christmas Bird Count is a long-standing tradition that has been observed by birders since Christmas Day in 1900. From December 14th through January 5th, tens of thousands of volunteers collect data to help conservationists study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America.
For more than 40 years, DTE Energy’s Monroe Power Plant, located in Monroe, Michigan, has participated in the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count. Employees, retirees, and local birders come together, armed with their binoculars, to share their love of birds and brave the frigid December weather that Michiganders know too well. The power plant’s 800-acre wildlife habitat provides an ideal location for the count, since it consists of ample food, shelter and space for a variety of birds in the property’s restored prairies, wetlands and Lake Erie shoreline. The Christmas Bird Count has become a form of monitoring for the wildlife program, with more than 40 species being counted on the plant property since 1992, including the resident Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons.
The Christmas Bird Count is an event that can wear many hats. It can help bolster formal monitoring for WHC certification programs, not only for birds but other wildlife as well, and it can be shaped to provide an educational component for non-birders or students of any age. Community partnerships can be created with local birding groups who not only help employees to count the birds, but provide valuable tips and tricks for identification, better birding practices, photography, and the use of birding equipment (spotting scopes, binoculars, cameras, etc.). Partnering with local birders, scout troops, or schools can strengthen your program and create greater employee engagement. However, keep in mind the scale of the event! If you invite too many people, you may not see any birds.
What makes the Christmas Bird Count at the Monroe Power Plant so special is that participation arose simply out of the interest of the employees, not out of an obligation for documentation or a need to reach a certain number of educational hours for certification. The trick to recreating this is to identify the passions your co-workers hold, whether it is for birds or something else, and make a commitment to sustain that passion for years to come. Once you know what employees care about, you can harness that curiosity and excitement to help sustain and expand your certification program.