Climate Watch FAQ's

Frequently asked questions about Audubon's Climate Watch program

General
What does the Audubon Birds and Climate Report say about the impact of climate change on birds?
How does Climate Watch benefit birds?
Why does Climate Watch take place in January/February and May/June?

Selecting Squares
Why are the squares where they are and can they be moved?
What do the predictions of gain, loss, and stasis mean for the target species in those squares?
What factors should I consider when selecting squares to survey?
Should I survey the same squares across different seasons and years of Climate Watch?
Should I focus on covering the same areas where Christmas Bird Counts (CBC) or Breeding Bird Surveys (BBS) were conducted or avoid those areas?

Selecting Survey Points
What factors should I consider when selecting survey points?
How should I identify habitat for the target species?
Should survey points be distributed evenly throughout the square?
Should I survey the same points across different seasons and years of Climate Watch?
When and how should I move survey points from previous seasons?
How important is it that each survey area be completely within the boundaries of the square?

Conducting Surveys
Should I conduct surveys in poor weather?
How many people should participate in conducting a Climate Watch survey?
Why count five minutes?
Can I bird for longer than five minutes?
Is it necessary to wait after arriving at a survey location before starting the five-minute survey?
Over what area should I count birds?
Can I survey in areas with bluebird nest boxes?
Can we use bird call playback or other sound-based attractants in our Climate Watch survey?
How long will it take to complete surveying all 12 points within a square?
How do I capture location data?
The Climate Watch period is just after the Christmas Bird Count, can I run Climate Watch surveys during the CBC?

Entering Data
If I do not see any target species on my survey should I still submit my data?
What data do I need to submit for each survey?
What does the question “are you reporting all of the species you were able to identify” mean and why should I always answer “yes” for Climate Watch surveys?
 

General

What does the
Audubon Birds and Climate Report say about the impact of climate change on birds?

Audubon scientists used three decades of citizen-scientist observations from the Audubon Christmas Bird Count and the North American Breeding Bird Survey to define “climatic suitability” for each bird species – the range of temperatures, precipitation, and seasonal changes each species needs to survive. Then, using internationally recognized greenhouse gas emissions scenarios, they mapped where each bird’s ideal climatic range may be found in the future as the climate changes. Of the 588 North American bird species Audubon studied, more than half are likely to be in trouble. Our models indicate that 314 species will lose more than 50 percent of their current climatic range by 2080. 

How does Climate Watch benefit birds?

Your participation in Climate Watch provides Audubon scientists with data on the current distribution of target species that can be used to validate and refine our models for where these species’ ranges will shift under the effects of climate change. As we ground-truth these models and confirm and improve their accuracy we will use them to identify areas of high climatic suitability for target species and to inform on-the-ground conservation decisions.  

Why does Climate Watch take place in January/February and May/June?

The goal of Climate Watch is to capture changes in the breeding and wintering activity of target species. Although the timing of breeding and arrival on wintering grounds varies across species and across the country these timeframes (late January through early Feburary and late May through early June) do a good job of capturing those parts of their lifecycle despite the many variables.

 

Selecting Squares

Why are the squares where they are and can they be moved?

The squares in your chapter area are a part of one continuous grid that covers the entire country. As a result, we are unable to accommodate any requests to shift the boundaries of squares.

What do the predictions of gain, loss, and stasis mean for the target species in those squares?

Climate Watch maps now include data from Audubon’s Climate 2.0 models which use climate and habitat data correlated with past bird observations to predict the climate suitability of a given area for each target species in 2025. Gain indicates that the area is predicted to become more climate suitable for a given species, loss indicates that it is predicted to become less climate suitable, and stasis indicates that its climate suitability is predicted to stay the same. Surveys from areas of the highest gain or loss are most valuable in testing these predictions.

What factors should I consider when selecting squares to survey?

First, prioritize squares that have the strongest predictions for loss or gain (the darkest red or blue squares). Surveys from orange stasis squares are also valuable and there may not be any red or blue squares in your chapter area for a given species and season. From there prioritize the squares with the best habitat for the target species based on satellite maps, local knowledge, and in-person scouting. Finally, be sure squares are physically and legally accessible to participants. 

Should I survey the same squares across different seasons and years of Climate Watch?

While your chapter may select different squares for the winter and summer phases based on the different models for the two seasons you should survey the same squares each winter and the same squares each summer for a given target species.

Should I focus on covering the same areas where Christmas Bird Counts (CBC) or Breeding Bird
Surveys (BBS) were conducted or avoid those areas?

CBC and BBS data are already being used to inform the Climate Watch models. There is no need to either focus on or avoid areas where these surveys are conducted.

 

Selecting Survey Points

What factors should I consider when selecting survey points?

Select survey points in the best possible habitat for the target species within the square. Survey points should be 200m from any other survey point in the square to prevent double-counting. Survey points should be physically and legally accessible – you should be able to drive or walk there safely and have the proper permission to access the property.

How should I identify habitat for the target species?

You can identify the best habitat for target species based on your personal knowledge of the species habitat preferences, the knowledge of your Climate Watch Coordinator and other local experts, the satellite maps and habitat descriptions provided on the Climate Watch website, and/or in-person scouting of the area.

Should survey points be distributed evenly throughout the square?

There is no need to distribute survey points evenly throughout a square. Survey points should be at least 200 meters apart and should be selected based on the best potential habitat for the target species regardless of their distribution within the square.

Should I survey the same points across different seasons and years of Climate Watch?

While you may target different areas across the summer and winter seasons based on differences between winter and summer habitats of the target species it is best to return to the same survey points each winter and another set of survey points each summer. Surveying these same points (or as close as possible) winter after winter and summer after summer provide us with more valuable data on long-term changes in occupancy.

When and how should I move survey points from previous seasons?

If conditions at one of your survey points have changed significantly since the last surveyperiod, and the area no longer represents appropriate habitat for your target species please move your survey point to the nearest location with appropriate habitat within thesame square.

How important is it that each survey area be completely within the boundaries of the square?

While the center point of the survey area should be within the borders of the square the entire 100 meter radius of the survey area does not need to be within the borders.

 

Conducting Surveys

Should I conduct surveys in poor weather?

Conduct your surveys only if the conditions will not jeopardize your safety or impact the detectability of target species. A light breeze or intermittent precipitation will not affect detectability, but avoid conducting counts in steady rain, snow or during periods of high winds.

How many people should participate in conducting a Climate Watch survey?

We ask that Climate Watch surveys be conducted by 1-3 individuals whenever possible. Larger groups tend to be louder and are more likely to be distracted, leading to a change in their chance of detecting a target species. No matter how many people participate in your surveys be sure to note the number of observers when submitting your data.

Why count five minutes?

We ask that you conduct your surveys for as close as possible to five minutes to help us control for observer effort in our data analysis. Having a standard five-minute count period allows us to control for the time spent observing when calculating the abundance of target species from your observations. You should continue to count for the full five minutes at each point even after detecting the target species as you may detect additional individuals.

Can I bird for longer than five minutes?

You may bird for longer than five minutes at your survey location, but please only record and enter the observations from the first five minutes for Climate Watch purposes. You can submit your other observations on separate eBird checklists.

Is it necessary to wait after arriving at a survey location before starting the five-minute survey?

No, it is not necessary to wait any length of time before beginning your five-minute survey.

Over what area should I count birds?

You should record all of the individual birds and species that you are able to detect within 100 meters of your survey location. Species and individuals outside of the 100 meters should not be included in Climate Watch checklists.

Can I survey in areas with bluebird nest boxes?

Feel free to select survey locations with nest boxes within the survey area but please note the number of nest boxes in the comments of your eBird checklists for those surveys.

Can we use bird call playback or other sound-based attractants in our Climate Watch survey?

With the development of technology, call playback to attract birds has become more common in the birding community. Although we understand that this may increase your chances of seeing certain bird species, we ask participants in Climate Watch surveys to refrain from using bird call playback, predator call playback, as well as ‘pishing’ and other bird call mimicking. The Climate Watch protocol was developed to measure detection of the target species, and the use of playback and mimicking can interfere with our ability to get an accurate estimate of a species true detection in the field.

How long will it take to complete surveying all 12 points within a square?

Depending on travel time and conditions conducting the 12 point counts within a square should take anywhere from two to six hours depending on travel time between your points.

How do I capture location data?

The easiest way to capture your location is to use the eBird mobile app to submit your observations from the field – the app can automatically capture your location data when you start a new checklist. It is available for free on both iOS and Android. Alternatively, you can use a GPS device, paper maps to later correlate your location with Google Maps, or another smartphone application to capture your latitude and longitude in the format of decimal degrees, DDD.DDDDDD°, not degrees, minutes, and seconds.

The Climate Watch period is just after the Christmas Bird Count, can I run Climate Watch surveys during the CBC?

We understand that winter is a busy time for bird surveys, and we are thankful to have a dedicated network of community scientists willing to get out and collect bird data. While the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) and Climate Watch are run at similar times, we want to stress the importance of both of these surveys as independent and complimentary.

Climate Watch surveys are designed specifically to answer questions about the detectability and abundance of target species within areas projected to experience changes in climate suitability. That means, surveys are often set in areas where target species don’t yet occur, but climate change analyses suggest they might be shifting into. The surveys are set up to directly test the Birds and Climate Report models for each species, at a fine-scale resolution, with a structured protocol so that data are collected to help calculate detection, occupancy and abundance estimates. CBC surveys are more unstructured in nature, using a protocol that uses party hours over distance which is better able to provide presence data and relative abundance measures.

Additionally, we need count periods to occur at the same time each year (January 15- February 15 or May 15 - June15) in order to be comparable to other Climate Watch surveys happening during the same time as well as year to year. We selected these time periods to better capture target species as close to their true wintering (January) or breeding (June) grounds as possible for most of the country. Both CBC and Climate Watch data are needed together in a different capacity to improve our body of knowledge about how birds are affected by climate change.

 

Entering Data

If I do not see any target species on my survey should I still submit my data?

Yes! The absence of the target species is a very important data point. The models predict where the target species will be showing up or abandoning habitat during the next fifteen years. We need all data, including the absence of birds, in order to observe changes like this and tell the full story. Be sure to enter and submit a complete checklist of the birds seen during Climate Watch surveys even if the target species was not observed. 

What data do I need to submit for each survey?

For each survey we ask that you submit the start time, duration, the number of observers, location (latitude and longitude in decimal degrees), the total number of individuals of each species that you observed, the presence of any nest boxes for the target species and which target species you selected habitat for.

What does the question “are you reporting all of the species you were able to identify” mean and why should I always answer “yes” for Climate Watch surveys?
This important question is asked about every bird observation submitted to eBird. Answering yes does not mean you were able to identify every bird you observed in the survey area, but rather that you are not intentionally excluding a species that you were able to identify from your checklist. Answering yes is important for Climate Watch checklists as this allows us to infer the absence of any target species you are not reporting in a given survey