Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count

Calling all bird lovers and naturalists: You can help protect the bird population in your area. Local chapters of the National Audubon Society are gearing up for this year’s annual Christmas Bird Count, set for Dec. 14–Jan. 5. Check or your local chapter’s website for dates and information about bird counts in Whatcom, Skagit, and the San Juan Islands.

Last year, between December 13–31, participants across the nation reported spotting more than 56 million birds, including 2,636 different species. Locally, 166 volunteers counted 396 species in Whatcom, Skagit, and San Juan counties.

According to the North Cascade Audubon Society’s website, this tradition dates to 1900. It was an alternative hunt for those who preferred protecting birds rather than killing them. It created what are now known as “citizen scientists.” With climate change, habitat loss, and the fear of extinction of species, average people are being enlisted to be a part of the important work of species protection.

The count is conducted within geographic circles within a region. The circles, generally 15 miles in diameter, cover a wide variety of habits like saltwater and urban parklands, fields and farms. Participants are assigned a circle, and it is their job to count the different types and numbers of birds in their circle. The numbers are sent to the Audubon Society for analysis.

Over the last dozen years volunteers have witnessed a change in the types of birds in our area due to climate change and environmental factors. Seabirds like the Western grebe have declined due to the increase in oil tanker traffic. Large tankers kill the eel grass, which provides a home for herring, which is a source of food for these birds on their migration route, according to Doug Brown, coordinator for North Skagit Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count. In recent years, warmer winter temperatures have decreased the number of Bohemian waxwings, who need colder weather, and increased the number of Anna’s hummingbirds and scrub jays, who like the warmth.

Previous volunteer and coordinator Paul Woodcock explains why participation in these counts are so important. “We are acquainting people with birds and increasing their interest and participation in order to understand where birds are wintering.”

While bird counts are exciting for seeking out rare birds like the snowy owl, Brown wants people to understand that the bird count is more than just a field trip. So, grab your binoculars, a pencil and some paper, and dress warmly. Summon your inner bird nerd and become a citizen scientist. Birds everywhere will thank you.

North Cascades Audubon Society

Skagit Audubon Society

San Juan Audubon Society

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"Summon your inner bird nerd and become a citizen scientist. Birds everywhere will thank you."