In 2016, Audubon's climate scientists piloted a new research project to see how climate change is affecting birds. Climate Watch, as it's known, recruited volunteer birders and community scientists to fan across the country at the same time, twice a year, to count bluebirds and nuthatches. The goal was to see how both species are moving across the landscape to adjust to global warming.
Bluebirds and nuthatches were deliberately selected as the focal birds. They're charismatic and easy to identify. Plus they live in the United States during winter and summer, which is when both Climate Watch surveys take place. Scope was also important. Audubon's 2019 Survival by Degrees report expected bluebirds and nuthatches to shift their ranges as temperatures rise, and between the seven species—Eastern, Western, and Mountain Bluebirds plus White-breasted, Red-breasted, Brown-headed, and Pygmy Nuthatches—they had pretty good geographic coverage, spanning most of the country.
But not good enough. Starting in spring of 2019, during the May 15–June 15 survey window, Climate Watch volunteers can also search for goldfinches (American and Lesser), towhees (Eastern and Spotted), and Painted Buntings.
"We wanted to make sure everybody could get involved," says Brooke Bateman, senior scientist at the National Audubon Society in charge of the Climate Watch program. "We wanted more urban coverage and geographic coverage."
The additional species fill those niches. American Goldfinches are urban and suburban birds that are widespread across the continental United States. Painted Buntings and Eastern Towhees add Texas and Florida to the map, while Lesser Goldfinches and Spotted Towhees invite westerners into the fold. The only states where Climate Watch species aren't common are Alaska and Hawaii (none of the species live on Hawaii).
Can you identify any of these birds in the field? If so, you can become a volunteer to help study how birds are reacting to climate change. If not, click on each name to learn more about the species, and download our free Audubon Bird Guide app for reference in the field. And to learn more about Climate Watch and sign up, click here.