Tag Archives: Christmas Bird Count

Reason to chirp: Audubon announces annual Christmas Bird Count

For the 117th year, the National Audubon Society is organizing its annual Christmas Bird Count. Between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5, tens of thousands of bird-loving volunteers — citizen scientists — will participate in counts across the Western Hemisphere.

The data continues to contribute to one of only two large existing pools of information notifying ornithologists and conservation biologists about what conservation action is required to protect birds and the places they need.

The Christmas Bird Count is the longest-running wildlife census in the world.

Each individual count takes place in a 15-mile-wide circle and is led by a compiler responsible for organizing volunteers and submitting observations to Audubon.  Within each circle, participants tally all birds seen or heard that day — not just the species but total numbers to provide a clear idea of the health of that particular population.

“It’s never been easier to be a citizen scientist and it’s never been more important to be one,” said David Yarnold, president and CEO of the National Audubon Society. “Birds and the people who watch them are noticing changes. Using the data gathered by more than a century of Christmas Bird Counts, Audubon will keep protecting birds and the places they need. I’m incredibly proud of the volunteers that contribute to this tradition.”

Christmas Bird Count data have been used in more than 200 peer-reviewed articles, including Audubon’s landmark Birds and Climate Change Report, which found that more than half of the bird species in North America are threatened by a changing climate.

When combined with other surveys such as the Breeding Bird Survey, it provides a picture of how the continent’s bird populations have changed in time and space over the past hundred years.

The long term perspective is vital for conservationists, informing strategies to protect birds and their habitat, and helps identify environmental issues with implications for people as well.

Last year, the 116th Christmas Bird Count included a record-setting 2,505 count circles, with 1,902 counts in the United States, 471 in Canada and 132 in Latin America, the Caribbean, Bermuda and the Pacific Islands.

In total, 76,669 observers in 2015 tallied up 58,878,071 birds representing 2,607 different species — about one-quarter of the world’s known avifauna. About 5 percent of the North American landmass was surveyed by the Christmas Bird Count.

“From Alaska’s Arctic coast to Tierra del Fuego, and from Newfoundland to Los Angeles, the 117th CBC is a tradition that everyone can participate in,” said Geoff LeBaron, Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count director. “Adding observations to more than a century of data helps scientists and conservationists observe trends that will help make our work more impactful.”

A disturbing finding from last year was the continued decline of the Northern Bobwhite, the only native quail in the eastern United States. Record low numbers of this species were observed from the Midwestern states to the Mid-Atlantic and down to Florida.

Meanwhile the Eurasian Collared-Dove, introduced to the Bahamas in the 1970s from its native Europe, was observed in record high numbers from North Carolina throughout the Midwest and northward to the Great Lakes and southern Canada.

These two species are of great concern as Audubon embarks on its 117th count.

Beginning on Christmas Day in 1900, Frank M. Chapman, founder of Bird-Lore — which evolved into Audubon magazine — proposed a new holiday tradition that would count birds during the holidays rather than hunt them.

Conservation was in its beginning stages in that era, and many observers and scientists were becoming concerned about declining bird populations. So began the Christmas Bird Count. 117 years later, the tradition continues and still manages to bring out the best in people.

The Audubon Christmas Bird Count is a citizen science project organized by the National Audubon Society. There is no fee to participate and the quarterly report, American Birds, is available online.

Counts are open to birders of all skill levels and Audubon’s free Bird Guide app makes it even easier to chip in.

On the Web

For more about the Christmas Bird Count, go online to www.christmasbirdcount.org.


For the birds: Christmas Bird Count is critical for Wisconsin species

They don their holiday apparel and accessorize — fleece jackets, knit caps, hiking boots, scopes and binoculars.

Thousands of citizen scientists, most of them avid birders, flock together in December and early January to celebrate a holiday pastime: the Christmas Bird Count.

The National Audubon Society count begins on Dec. 14 and continues through Jan. 5. In its 116th year nationwide, the count is the longest-running wildlife census in the world, providing decades of data for researchers to identify trends and for conservationists to take action.

“People who watch birds are seeing changes,” said David Yarnold, president and CEO of the National Audubon Society. “By recording all those observations, they’re contributing the information that’s needed to make a difference. I couldn’t be prouder of the volunteers who contribute each year.”

The first count in Wisconsin took place 100 years ago in Milwaukee. Today, more than 1,000 volunteers are involved in more than 100 counts in the state.

Wisconsin isn’t the most populated state in the country and it isn’t the largest geographically, but participation in the Christmas Bird Count is extremely high.

“What’s really cool is Wisconsin is just second in the nation to California,” said Carl Schroeder of Kiel. He and Kyle Lindemer co-lead the count in Wisconsin in a combined effort of Audubon and the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology. “It’s really phenomenal. Wisconsin is really, really active in birding in general and in doing this kind of organized, citizen-science activity.”

Counting counters

Ornithologist Frank M. Chapman, an early officer with the Audubon Society, gets the credit for founding the Christmas Bird Count. At the time, people engaged in a tradition known as the Christmas side hunt, a contest in which the hunter who collected the largest pile of feathered or furred quarry won.

Chapman was among the early conservationists concerned about declining bird populations. On Dec. 25, 1900, he and 27 other birders conducted 25 counts. Fourteen years before the once common passenger pigeon went extinct, the first Christmas counters observed 90 species of birds.

This year, the National Audubon Society expects more than 72,000 volunteers from 2,400 locations across the Western Hemisphere to participate in the count. The counts will occur in circular areas about 15 miles wide in all 50 states, as well as the Canadian provinces and about 100 locations in Latin America. The birders in the circles will tally every bird they see or hear.

In 2014, volunteers counted more than 68 million birds and 2,106 species.

Schroeder, in addition to his role as a co-coordinator, participates in one or two counts every year.

“I have pretty much my whole life, since I was 9 or 10 years old,” said the 61-year-old manager of new product development for Kohler Co.

He traces his enthusiasm for birding to his ninth birthday, when his Grandma Been gave him a Petersen’s Field Guild, the birder’s bible.

“I don’t know what made her think I might be ready for it, but she took me out … and we found a peewee,” Schroeder said, recalling that his grandmother taught him how to use the guide to identify the bird.

“It took hold of my imagination,” he said. “I thought, ‘Wow. That’s really cool. There’s these little treasures out there that you can find.’ It was like a treasure hunt. And it just grew on me.”

By age 12, Schroeder was going out on his own to observe birds.

Today his “life list,” a listing of the birds he’s observed over the years, is at 604 species for the lower 48 states. “I just topped the 600 mark just this past summer,” Schroeder said. “I was driving cross-country with my grandson.” His 600th bird? A Virginia’s warbler.

Most of those who volunteer for the Christmas Bird Count share Schroeder’s passion for birding.

“I count Christmas Bird Counts like other people count Grateful Dead shows,” said birder Mary Khoo, who’s participated in counts in Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Florida. “We all contribute to the greater good, and this is one way to blend passion and cause.”

In recent years, coordinators have shaped some counts to draw children into the circles. The first kids’ count in Wisconsin was in 2012 at the Woodland Dunes Nature Center and Preserve in Two Rivers.

“The Christmas Bird Count harnesses all this passion in an effort to gather information that can be used to look for trends,” Schroeder said. “Are populations increasing or decreasing? Are birds shifting geographically? This might give clues to changes in the weather or climate or other factors. The data have become very valuable.”

Counting cardinals & other species

From analyzing Christmas Bird Count information, researchers have produced more than 200 peer-reviewed articles and papers, including a groundbreaking report released in 2014 showing 314 species in North America are threatened by global warming.

This month, findings gleaned from the Christmas Bird Count are being shared at the global climate change conference in Paris.

While the president and leaders of 194 other countries are gathered for the COP21 summit, Schroeder, Lindemer and others are making final arrangements for the count.

Prior to the count, state leaders are sharing dates and making certain a coordinator is assigned to each circle.

As the circle counts take place, tallies will be entered into a database, which Schroeder will review for accuracy and errors. 

“A lot of time goes into checking,” he said.

After the last count is submitted and verified, Lindemer will begin an analysis, looking at species counts and other information.

Others also will begin studying the details, looking for local, state, regional, national and international trends.

Questions linger from last year’s count. 

Researchers, for example, will be looking to see whether numbers continue to decline for Northern bobwhite, American kestrels and loggerhead shrikes — all species affected by habitat loss and diminished food supply due to pesticides.

Another focus will be on snowy owls, a species observed in 2014 in above-average numbers and a record number in Ontario. Researchers will be looking to see what happens this year as snowies begin to make early winter visits to the Midwest. 

In Wisconsin, will counters again see increasing numbers of cardinals in the southern part of the state? Is the species pushing north? If so, why?

“I love the idea that my observations can be useful,” Schroeder said of the information gathered in the count. 

And, he encouraged, the count always can benefit from more counters.

“The circles are never completed in terms of having too many people,” Schroeder said. “Some people are out looking on foot, some by car. We have a large number of birdfeeder watchers. It’s all good.”

And it’s all for the birds.

On the Web…

For more information about the Christmas Bird Count in Wisconsin, visit the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology at wsobirds.org/christmas-bird-count. Also, go to the Audubon Society at audubon.org.

Annual Christmas Bird Count coming up

It’s time for the 115th annual Christmas Bird Count, the world’s longest-running citizen science survey.

Each year, the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count mobilizes more than 70,000 volunteers in more than 2,400 locations.

This year, the count runs from Dec. 14 through Jan. 5.

The count adds to a comprehensive data set showing the fluctuation, range and movement of bird populations across the continent. Scientists use the data to better understand how birds and the environment are faring and what needs to be done to protect them.

Last year’s count documented the record flight of Snowy Owls in the East Coast and Great Lakes.

Get involved …


Shifting flight patterns | Climate change’s impact on birds

Could it be that some day the “oh-sweet-canada” whistle of the white-throated sparrow or the steady musical trill of the pine warbler won’t be heard in Wisconsin?

At least two climate change models — one from the Canadian Climate Center and another from the United Kingdom’s Hadley Center for Climate Prediction and Research — indicate that by 2100 many bird species now found in Wisconsin will be locally extinct, including the white-throated sparrow, red-breasted nuthatch, mourning warbler and pine warbler.

Other research efforts show that climate change is impacting birds and their behavior — especially migration and breeding —around the globe, raising questions for the fate of the proud peacocks of Pakistan, the brown pelicans of California, the pine warblers of Wisconsin and more.

“The science is clear: Carbon pollution is profoundly damaging to our air, water, natural spaces and wildlife, and failure to tackle the problem is no longer an option,” said David Yarnold, president and CEO of the National Audubon Society. 

Researchers have looked at the impact of climate change on specific species, such as the peacock, a bird indigenous to Pakistan that typically breeds in June and July and nests through the summer. Delays in the monsoon season have brought heavy rains in September that can damage peacock eggs. And severe flooding has caused some peacock populations to migrate to more mountainous habitats.

At the University of East Anglia in England, scientists in the school of biological sciences studied a population of Icelandic black-tailed godwits for two decades. During that time, the flock advanced the end of its spring migration by two weeks.

The scientists found that a younger generation was pushing up the schedule. “We found that birds hatched in the late 1990s arrived in May, but those hatched in more recent years are tending to arrive in April,” said lead researcher Jenny Gill. “So the arrival dates are advancing because the new youngsters are migrating earlier. 

“Climate change is likely to be driving this change because godwits nest earlier in warmer years and birds that hatch earlier will have more time to gain the body condition needed for migration and to find good places to spend the winter, which can help them to return early to Iceland when they come back to breed.”

One of the most significant studies on the subject, “Birds and Climate Change — Ecological Disruption in Motion” from the Audubon Society, examined 40 years of data collected by citizen scientists in the organization’s annual Christmas Bird Count.

Each year, the citizen scientists, most of them avid birdwatchers, go out on a specific date in December or January and count birds, noting the species and their number. The data are collected and used by Audubon scientists to identify patterns and trends over time.

An analysis of the counts provided evidence that climate change is seriously impacting natural systems, especially influencing migration. The co-author of the Audubon study, Greg Butcher, wrote, “Birds are showing us how the heavy hand of humanity is tipping the balance of nature and causing ecological disruption in ways we are just beginning to predict and comprehend.”

The Audubon research was focused on North America and showed a strong correlation between shifting ranges and winter temperature trends. Birds are found further north in warmer winters than they are in colder winters. Also, many birds are moving away from coastal areas, where oceans help moderate temperatures, and are being seen farther inland as temperatures rise.

The birds, according to Audubon, are following the biological imperative to move into areas with suitable climate. Over the 40-year period, the red-breasted merganser has moved 317 miles north and the green-winged teal, 157 miles north. The pine siskin has moved 288 miles north and the spruce grouse, 316 miles north.

The data also showed that:

• Twice as many bird species moved north as south.

• Twice as many species moved inland as moved coastally.

• There is a high correlation between the rate of winter population change for species in states and the winter temperature in those states.

While some species appear to be adapting — moving north, shifting inland — other species are at risk. Grassland birds, for example. Their habitats have been so decimated by human overuse that there are few places to go to find a more suitable habitat.

Audubon also has concerns for the fate of ice-loving birds, such as the Ivory and Ross’s gulls, Arctic-breeding shorebirds such as the American golden-plover and coastal birds such as the piping plover.

“Common sense dictates that we act now to curb the causes and impacts of global warming to the extent we can, and shape our policies to better cope with the disruptions we cannot avoid,” according to Butcher.

Earlier this month, the Obama administration announced plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. power plants, many of which are coal-fired, by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

The announcement was well received in environmental circles.

Audubon’s Yarnold said, “Cutting carbon pollution is the single most important thing we can do to protect birds — and ourselves — in a changing world. Sure, energy companies are going to howl, but they can’t get a free pass to dump harmful waste into our air any longer, and they’re fully capable of innovating their way to solutions.”

Birdwatchers who participate in the Christmas count also welcomed the announcement, but said more must be done by everyone.

“I’d like everyone who reads this to go outside. Take a look around. Listen,” said bird enthusiast Ginny Manzerik of Milwaukee. “There’s a good chance that the wildlife that you see and hear will be birds. Listen to that warbler and then think about what you can do to minimize your impact.”

Additional research shows:

• Lowland and foothill bird species in Costa Rica have extended their ranges up mountain slopes.

• Breeding birds in the United Kingdom extended their ranges north by 12 miles in association with warming temperatures.

• Warming ocean temperatures contributed to a 90-percent decline in the population of sooty shearwaters on the west coast of the United States.