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Annual Christmas Bird Counts Use Citizen Observations To Track Species Health

Photo of junco bird sitting on a tree.
NPS/S. Redman
The Oregon junco is a common bird species showing population declines in southern Oregon according to Christmas bird count data, according to John Alexander with the Klamath Bird Observatory.

Birding groups throughout California and Oregon will be outside for chilly 24-hour stretches now through early January for a series of annual Christmas bird counts.

Survey groups in Medford and Klamath Falls started documenting species over the weekend. Other counts will take place in Ashland on Dec. 28 and multiple locations in Humboldt County in the coming weeks.

The citizen science surveys are a chance for experts and amateurs to collect important data about the health of bird species.

“It shows overall trends of bird population and where we might be having problems, and where the birds are surviving and thriving,” says Carol Mockridge, president of the Rogue Valley Audubon Society.

Birds are one of the most monitored types of animals. A recent article in the journal Science showed steep declines of many types of birds, even common ones. The paper charted an overall loss of nearly 30% of the number of birds today compared to 1970. Christmas bird count data was one of the sources used to show that.  

Mockridge says population numbers of several species in the Rogue Valley have been declining in recent years.

According to Klamath Bird Observatory Executive Director John Alexander, groups could encounter more than 50 bird species during a Christmas bird count survey in the Rogue Valley. He says the one-day winter counts create a fuller picture by complimenting data gathered during the warmer months.  

“It not only raises awareness but it raises our understanding of what’s happening out there,” Alexander says, “We can use these data to point conservation dollars where they’re most needed.”

Dates and locations for Christmas bird counts in Oregon can be found here and in California here.

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.