Counting Birds: The Idea That Helped Save Our Feathered Friends by Heidi E.Y. Stemple & Clover Robin (Illustrations)

I was fortunate to get to read this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Counting Birds: The Idea That Helped Save Our Feathered Friends tells the story of how the Christmas Bird Count came to be.

Frank Chapman loved birds. He worked at the American Museum of Natural History in the bird section. In 1899 he started a bimonthly magazine called Bird Lore that later became the Audubon magazine.

Around this time Americans were starting to become aware of the destruction of wilderness areas and a conservationist movement was building: people who wanted to preserve these spaces and the animals who lived in them. 

Unfortunately, not everyone cared. Each Christmas day a traditional bird hunt was held where hunters would go out and kill as many birds as they could find. They killed all kinds of birds. The team that killed the most birds was the winner.

Frank Chapman did not like this. Through his magazine he proposed that rather than hunting and killing birds, they engage in a Christmas bird census. At the first one in 1900, 27 birdwatchers in 25 different locations counted 18,500 birds from 89 different species. They hunted birds, but none of them were killed.

Every year since then more and more people have joined in on this Christmas census taking so that it is now a global event. Owlers start out at midnight calling down owls and as these people are returning to their beds, the rest of the birders emerge. 

All the data they collect goes to the National Audubon Society. "The Audubon Christmas Bird Count has become the largest running citizen science project and wildlife census in the world." In 2016, 73,153 birders identified 2,636 species and counted 56,139,812 birds. When the count is over there is still some competition over who has the highest count, but thankfully, no birds are killed. And all because Frank Chapman loved birds.

The back matter includes additional information on Frank Chapman, how to become active in bird counts in your area and other ways to become involved. In the notes from the author I discovered that Heidi E.Y. Stemple is daughter to Jane Yolen. Their family was part of the bird count and she is the girl in Yolen's Owl Moon.

This book is a delight to read. I was enchanted by the story itself and nearly swooned at the beauty of Clover Robin's illustrations. Her brightly coloured collages are full of details. Whether she is illustrating landscapes or birds on their own, she imparts a vintage ambience that is perfect for this nonfiction title. 

After reading this book I had to go and reread Owl Moon. I can't help but find deep layers meaning in it that I wouldn't have realized were there without this book.


  1. Wow, wow, wow! Those spreads are absolutely magnificent. I am going to buy the book for my brother. :)

  2. I know! I really want to purchase some of her art!