Spring Bird Count (SBC) is a yearly bird count that consists of volunteers conducting bird censuses on the Saturday that falls between May 4 and May 10. The censuses are conducted in all 102 counties in Illinois, however, in any given year a few counties are not censused.

Each county has a compiler responsible for recruiting volunteers and assigning them areas to count within their county.  This is especially important to avoid double coverage of an area.  Compilers also tabulate all data collected within their county and send it to the state compiler.  Volunteers record all birds seen or heard, along with the number of hours they spend “owling” (pre-dawn hours), the number of hours spent looking for birds during the day, the number of miles driven in a car, and the number of miles walked.

Spring Bird Count History

SBC was organized by Chandler Robbins, organizer of the North American Breeding Bird Survey, in 1959.  A decade later the Illinois Department of Natural Resources asked Vernon Kleen to organize the first Illinois statewide SBC in the early 1970s.   Vern had been mentored by Chandler Robbins and also helped with the first SBC in Maryland, making him a great candidate for taking on such a large task. With the help of the Illinois Audubon Society, the first count was conducted on Saturday, May 6, 1972, and included 650 observers in 62 counties.

Vern continued organizing the count for over 30 years, before transitioning the count to the Illinois Natural History Survey.  Today the survey has electronic SBC data dating back to 1975.  Each year SBC reports are published in the Meadowlark, a journal of the Illinois Ornithological Society, where along with Illinois Audubon many of the count’s volunteers come from.