CHICAGO — For the 121st year, the National Audubon Society is organizing the annual Audubon CBC. Between December 14 and January 5, tens of thousands of bird-loving volunteers will participate in counts across the Great Lakes region and the Western Hemisphere all while abiding by Audubon’s COVID-19 guidelines. The twelve decades’ worth of data collected by participants continue 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 Audubon CBC is one of the longest-running wildlife censuses in the world. Each individual count takes place in a 15-mile-wide circle and is led by a compiler responsible for safely organizing volunteers and submitting observations directly 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. Wearing masks and social distancing are mandatory requirements for participants.
“We know this year is going to be a very different Audubon CBC than in years past, but it is still a great tradition and opportunity for everyone to be a part of more than 120 years of ongoing community science,” said Geoff LeBaron, Audubon CBC director, who first started leading the community science effort in 1987. “Adding your observations to twelve decades of data helps scientists and conservationists discover trends that make our work more impactful. Participating in the Audubon CBC is a fun and meaningful way to spend a winter for anyone and everyone.”
“Birds are important environmental indicators so whether you are new to birding or an expert, every action and data collected during CBC is important to help tell us about the quality of the environment and how we can take conservation action,” said Nat Miller, conservation director for Audubon Great Lakes.
When combined with other surveys such as the Breeding Bird Survey, the Audubon CBC 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. It informs strategies to protect birds and their habitat, and helps identify environmental issues with implications for people as well. For example, last year, Science published a study using decades of Audubon CBC data to describe a grim picture: a steady decline of nearly three billion North American birds since 1970, primarily as a result of human activities. Audubon CBC data have been used in more than 300 peer-reviewed articles.
Audubon CBC data are also used to measure how birds are already responding to climate change. By tracking how bird ranges have moved over time, conservation efforts can be prioritized in areas that are important for birds today and in a climate-altered future. With two-thirds of North American bird species increasing risk of extinction by the end of this century, Audubon CBC data is more important than ever for effective conservation.
In the Great Lakes region, Sandhill Cranes are taking advantage of milder winters and less snow and ice cover, and are lingering into Audubon CBC period far north of their usual southwestern and south coastal wintering grounds.
Last year, the 120th Audubon CBC included a record-setting 2,646 count circles, with 1,992 counts in the United States, 469 in Canada and 185 in Latin America, the Caribbean, Bermuda and the Pacific Islands. This was the tenth-straight year of record-breaking counts. In total, 81,601 observers out in the field and watching feeders tallied up more than 42 million birds representing more than 2,500 different species—around one-quarter of the world’s known avifauna. Unfortunately, this total of birds represents around 6 million fewer total birds than last year’s Audubon CBC total, which was itself a very low number historically. Audubon scientists are unclear what is responsible for the back-to-back lower-than-expected totals, but further research has already been discussed. To observe the trends of any particular species over the last twelve decades, please take a look here.
The Audubon CBC is a community science project organized by the National Audubon Society. There is no fee to participate. The Audubon CBC is open to birders of all skill levels and Audubon’s free Bird Guide app makes it even easier to learn more. For more information and to find a count near you visit www.christmasbirdcount.org. To view Audubon CBC-branded apparel, accessories and other items for purchase, please visit the Audubon Store.
To sign up for an Audubon CBC and ensure your bird count data make it into the official Audubon database, please find the circle nearest you and register with your local Audubon CBC compiler on this map here. All Audubon CBC data must be submitted through the official compiler to be added to the long-running census.
The National Audubon Society protects birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. Audubon works throughout the Americas using science, advocacy, education, and on-the-ground conservation. State programs, nature centers, chapters, and partners give Audubon an unparalleled wingspan that reaches millions of people each year to inform, inspire, and unite diverse communities in conservation action. A nonprofit conservation organization since 1905, Audubon believes in a world in which people and wildlife thrive. Learn more at www.audubon.org and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @audubonsociety.