A Smaller (but No Less Robust) Audubon Christmas Bird Count

The 121st Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC), a single-day bird census held at thousands of locations across the Western Hemisphere, looked quite different in 2020. To keep everyone safe, National Audubon supported compilers who chose to cancel their counts due to the coronavirus pandemic and provided guidance to those who decided to proceed.
 
Birding is an excellent pandemic activity when conducted alone or in a small, socially distanced group. Our popular Central Park Christmas Bird Count, however, is normally a large group event. In a typical year, over 100 people gather in the morning and split off into groups of 20 to count birds together in different sections of the park. This is followed by a compilation gathering indoors at the Central Park Arsenal Gallery, a festive event that we love hosting. Groups also fan out to count other areas outside the park across the New Jersey-Lower Hudson (NJ-LH) Count Circle in groups large and small, with a few of them hosting their own compilation gatherings.
 
In lieu of hosting such large group events, our 2020 count involved a smaller number of seasoned volunteers who collected data while wearing masks and remaining socially distanced. Data was compiled via email and without the fanfare of competing count groups calling out the number of each species they had counted earlier in the day. While we missed seeing volunteers and enjoying hot soup at the Arsenal after a cold morning of birding, our count’s data did not suffer from the restrictions. Volunteers in Central Park counted 6,357 birds of 59 species, which is 1,000 birds and 2 species more than what was found at the 2019 count. You can view the complete 2020 Central Park Count results here (note that the Northeast and Northwest sections of the park were combined into one “North” section count this year).
This White-throated Sparrow was one of 828 recorded at the Central Park Audubon Christmas Bird Count. Photo: NYC Audubon

Zooming out to the wider NJ-LH Count Circle, volunteers counted more than 25,000 birds of 102 species, plus 3 additional count week (observed within the count circle 3 days before or after count day) species: Turkey Vulture, Ring-necked Pheasant, and Palm Warbler. Highlights in Manhattan included not one but two Western Tanager, which was last included in the CBC tally in 1990. A Greater White-fronted Goose lingered off Randall’s Island and was spotted on count day, making it the first time the species has been on the NJ-LH list as a count day bird (it was a count week bird in 2016). The New Jersey portion of the count nabbed Iceland Gull (last counted in 2016) and Common Redpoll (last counted in 2012) for the species list this year. Full 2020 results for NJ-LH can be found here.
 
We were sad to miss the camaraderie of the event this winter, but we know that the year ahead promises an even larger community of birders looking to engage with one another in bird conservation.
 
-Kaitlyn Parkins, Senior Conservation Biologist