Audubon Christmas Bird Count Kicks Off

It's time for citizen scientists to get out their binoculars.

Anna's Hummingbird Feeding
In last year's count, Anna's hummingbirds were increasing in the Pacific Northwest. BirdImages / Getty Images

The 121st annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) from the National Audubon Society begins on Dec. 14. Researchers are depending on tens of thousands of volunteers to grab their binoculars to help gather data about birds throughout the Western Hemisphere.

Experienced bird watchers and eager amateurs will be contributing to one of the longest-running wildlife surveys, which runs through Jan. 5. The CBC helps ornithologists study the movement, range, and fluctuation of bird populations across the continent, which enables them to better understand how bird species are faring and changing over time.

Each count within the CBC takes place in a 15-mile-wide circle. In that circle, volunteers note all the birds they see or hear that day. They don't just track the species, but they tally the total numbers in order to create a picture of the bird population.

Because of the pandemic, bird lovers will have to abide by COVID-19 guidelines while observing and collecting information. Participants must wear masks and practice social distancing.

"The safety of our community scientists and compilers is the top priority of the Audubon CBC. Therefore, if regional regulations require some local counts to be cancelled, then that is what we’ll have to do. The Audubon CBC is also traditionally a fun social experience where participants gather at the end of the count to compile all the birds seen in a circle. This year, Audubon’s COVID-19 guidelines require such in-person gatherings to be cancelled in the name of safety," Geoff LeBaron, Audubon CBC director, tells Treehugger.

"Luckily, birding has also become an increasingly popular and safe activity during the pandemic because spending time outdoors usually allows for social distancing," says LeBaron. "There is a growing amount of evidence that spending time in nature is good for our health. Watching birds is a great way to remain present and focused on what’s happening right in our local communities."

Researchers use this data to analyze how bird species have changed over the past century. The information helps conservations develop strategies to protect birds and their habitats and identify environmental concerns that could impact them. CBC data is also used to track how birds are responding to climate change.

Last year, researchers used CBC data to show that nearly 3 billion birds have disappeared in North America since 1970, mostly as a result of human activities.  Audubon CBC information has been used in more than 300 peer-reviewed articles.

Last Year's Findings

For the 2019 count, 81,601 observers tallied more than 42 million birds representing more than 2,500 different species.

Although it was the tenth-straight year of record-breaking numbers, the total represented about 6 million fewer birds than the year before, which was also a very low number. Audubon scientists aren't sure what the reason was for the lower-than-expected count two years in a row, but are discussing further research.

The count found that Anna’s hummingbirds are doing exceptionally well. Their numbers are increasing in the Pacific Northwest and being tallied in increasing numbers in Southeast Alaska. 

Last year's CBC also found good news for barred owls, which are becoming more populous in the Pacific Northwest. But that can be bad news for spotted owls who often lose out in the territory battle with barred owls.

The count also found that sandhill cranes were staying farther north of their usual wintering grounds due to milder winters and less snow and ice.

For more information and to find a count near you visit www.christmasbirdcount.org

View Article Sources
  1. Rosenberg, Kenneth V. et al. "Decline Of The North American Avifauna". Science, 2020.

  2. By National Audubon Society. "Audubon’S Christmas Bird Count Will Look Very Different This Year". Audubon, 2020.