On December 23, 2011, an informal Christmas Bird Count was conducted at Tufton Farm, in the fields surrounding the nursery of the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants. The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is a census of birds in the Western Hemisphere, performed annually in the early Northern-hemisphere winter by volunteer birdwatchers. The purpose is to provide population data for use in science, especially conservation biology, though many people participate for recreation. Counts can be held on any day from December 14 to January 5 inclusive. The results of our count are posted here.
Through the nineteenth century, many North Americans participated in the tradition of Christmas "side hunts," in which they competed at how many birds they could kill, regardless of whether they had any use for the carcasses and of whether the birds were beneficial, beautiful, or rare. At the end of that century the U.S. ornithologist Frank Chapman, an officer in the recently formed National Audubon Society, proposed counting birds on Christmas instead of killing them. In 1900, 27 observers took part in the first count in 25 places in the United States and Canada, 15 of them in the northeastern U.S. from Massachusetts to Philadelphia. Since then the counts have been held every winter, usually with increasing numbers of observers.
Thomas Jefferson’s knowledge of American birds was considerable, both from observation and from the study of books in his own library, including Mark Catesby’s Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands, and the ten volumes on birds in the French scientist Comte de Buffon’s Histoire Naturelle. Jefferson listed 125 Virginia birds in his only published book, Notes on the State of Virginia (1782), which was 32 species more than in Catesby’s total. Jefferson would not have been considered an ornithologist in his day, however, because he did not approve of shooting birds in order to study them, and he abandoned hunting all together by 1784.
Jefferson’s favorite bird was the mockingbird, and he acquired a number of them as pets throughout his lifetime, beginning in 1772. While President, he purchased at least two “singing” mockingbirds that had been taught to sing popular American, Scottish, and French tunes. His favorite being a bird he named Dick, whose cage was suspended among the roses and geraniums in the window recesses of his presidential cabinet. According to Jefferson’s friend, Margaret Bayard Smith, Dick “was the constant companion of his solitary and studious hours.” When Jefferson retired to Monticello, his birds were transported also and, in the spring of 1809 he wrote to his butler, Etienne Lemaire, “My birds arrived here in safety, and are the delight of every hour.” Read more about Jefferson and birds at: http://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/mockingbirds