Bird-Watchers Needed for Annual Audubon Bird Count

Last year, volunteers tallied more than 42 million birds representing about 2,500 species.

Bird Perching On A Tree
Tufted titmouse. Skyler Ewing / EyeEm / Getty Images

Get out your binoculars and look to the trees and skies.

It’s time for the 123rd Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC) where volunteers are asked to get outdoors and pay attention to birds.

Tens of thousands of bird-watchers are expected to participate throughout the Western Hemisphere. Collected information will become part of large data banks that ornithologists and conservation biologists use to determine how to protect species and their habitats.

“The Audubon Christmas Bird Count is a great community science tradition that helps to provide a vital long-term perspective on how bird populations have changed over the past hundred years,” Geoff LeBaron, Christmas Bird Count Director for the National Audubon Society, tells Treehugger.

“Over the years, Audubon CBC data have been used in more than 300 peer-reviewed articles, including the 2019 study published in Science that found a steady loss of nearly three billion North American birds since 1970. It also informs strategies to protect birds and the places they need.”   

One of the longest-running wildlife censuses, the CBC utilizes 15-mile-wide circles that are led by individual compilers who organize volunteers and then submit collected data to Audubon. Inside each circle, volunteers note all the birds they see or hear that day. They record the species, as well as the total number of birds. That helps researchers learn about the health of each population.

Counting Sights and Sounds

The count is open to birders of all skill levels and experience. To participate, check out the Audubon map to find a circle nearby. Participation is free, but you must supply your own binoculars and transportation. You have to contact the local compiler before the count day in order to participate.

Volunteers in each area will count every bird they see and hear on one full day from Dec. 14 to Jan. 5. Volunteers will be asked to follow a specified route through the 15-mile diameter area. If you’re new to birding, you’ll be paired with an experienced birder to help. Audubon also has a free bird guide app that helps participants identify the birds around them.

More than 2,600 areas are covered by participants each year across the Western Hemisphere and beyond.

“Each season participants join in on Christmas Bird Counts in anticipation of a great day looking for birds in the field or at their feeders,” LeBaron says. “For many, the CBC becomes a holiday tradition, and they also anticipate spending the day with friends and birding in areas they love. We always hope for rare birds, but if one is found that’s just the icing on the cake.”

How Data Is Used

Last year, the bird count included 2,621 count circles. There were 76,880 observers out in the field who counted more than 42 million birds representing about 2,500 different species.

The results are analyzed in conjunction with other surveys like the Breeding Bird Survey to assess how bird populations have changed. The information is used when developing strategies to protect birds and their habitats.

The data is also used to determine how birds are responding to climate change.

“A 2022 Audubon study used 90 years of Christmas Bird Count data to show how birds have shifted amid a century of major environmental changes,” LeBaron says. “Our researchers found that winter ranges of all birds have moved in response to climate change, and that bird species with specific habitat needs, like grasslands or wetlands, are even more restricted by habitat availability in where they can exist in a climate-altered future.”

The CBC is organized by the National Audubon Society in partnership with Birds Canada. It takes about eight months to compile the data for the entire season.

“Adding your observations helps scientists and conservationists discover trends that make our work more impactful,” LeBaron says. “Participating in the Audubon CBC is a fun and meaningful way to spend a winter for anyone and everyone.”