Press Room

Help Count Birds for Science during Audubon’s Annual Christmas Bird Count

Longest-running bird census turns 116 years old

NEW YORK— Now in its 116th year, the National Audubon Society’s  annual Christmas Bird Count will take place from December 14 through January 5. During the count, more than 72,000 volunteers from 2,400-plus locations across the Western Hemisphere record sightings of bird species with the data collected and submitted to Audubon for research on bird populations and environmental conditions.

For more than 100 years, Audubon's Christmas Bird Count, the longest-running wildlife census, has fueled science and conservation action. Each winter, citizen scientists gather in 15-mile-wide circles, organized by a count compiler, and count every bird they see or hear. Their hard work provides valuable insights into population trends for many species that would otherwise go unnoticed and undocumented.

“New tools, including apps, smartphones and map-based technologies, are making it easier than ever for anyone to be a citizen scientist,” said Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold (@david_yarnold). People who watch birds are seeing changes. 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.”

To date over 200 peer-reviewed articles have resulted from analysis done with Christmas Bird Count data. Bird-related citizen science efforts are also critical to understanding how birds are responding to a changing climate. This documentation is what enabled Audubon scientists to discover that 314 species of North American birds are threatened by global warming as reported in Audubon’s groundbreaking Birds and Climate Change Study.

Last year’s count shattered records.  A total of 2,462 counts and 72,653 observers tallied over 68 million birds of 2,106 different species. Counts took place in all 50 states, all Canadian provinces and over 100 count circles in Latin America, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands.  Four counts took place in Cuba and new counts in Mexico, Nicaragua and Colombia partook for the first time.

Snowy Owl numbers were once again above average, though mostly appearing north and west of the year prior with record highs for Ontario. It was the largest influx ever documented on the CBC in Canada, and very unusual for it to happen for four consecutive years.  Researchers are anxious to see what happens next as “Snowies” begin to make early winter visits in Minnesota and the Midwest this year. The tradition of counting birds combined with modern technology and mapping is enabling researchers to make discoveries that were not possible in earlier decades.  

Northern Canada also noted record numbers of redpolls while Alaska recorded a Eurasian Siskin, a species normally found in the Eastern Hemisphere, for the very first time on Unalaska Island. On a less positive note, numbers of Northern Bobwhite, American Kestrels and Loggerhead Shrikes continue to decline in most regions. These are all species of hedgerows and shrub lands that require food negatively affected by pesticides—and are also affected by habitat loss across North America. Shrub land and grassland species are among the most rapidly declining worldwide, and CBC results can help track how these species fare over the coming decades in the Americas.

The Audubon Christmas Bird Count began in 1900 when Dr. Frank Chapman, founder of Bird-Lore – which evolved into Audubon magazine – suggested an alternative to the holiday “side hunt,” in which teams competed to see who could shoot the most birds. 116 years of counting birds is a long time, but the program somehow brings out the best in people, and they stay involved for the long run. Remarkably the entire existence of the program can still be measured with the involvement of two ornithologists—Chapman, who retired in 1934, and Chan Robbins, who started compiling in 1934 and still compiles and participates to this day. The old guard may someday move on, but up-and-coming young birders will fill the ranks. And so the tradition continues.

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

The National Audubon Society saves birds and their habitats throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education and on-the-ground conservation. Audubon's state programs, nature centers, chapters and partners have an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire and unite diverse communities in conservation action. Since 1905, Audubon's vision has been a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Audubon is a nonprofit conservation organization.

Learn more at www.audubon.org and follow @audubonsociety.

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Contact: media@audubon.org, 212-979-3100

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