Climate change makes annual Bay Area bird count more critical

SAN FRANCISCO, CA (KGO) -- Dozens of people braved the morning cold in San Francisco to do something that has been done for more than a century at this time of year - count birds.

The Audubon Christmas Bird Count, which takes place between December 14 and January 5, is now in its 120th year.

This year, more than 125 volunteers fanned across San Francisco, from Colma to Land's end to document the bird population.

"The count helps quantify what birds are in trouble, which birds are still here and how many there are," said David Assmann, the volunteer leader for the bird count at the Golden Gate Audubon Society.

Last year, volunteers counted 187 species in San Francisco. The city is unique in that it sits on a corner of a peninsula, so it is on a flyway for birds. That means we get a lot of different species of birds.

For the past five years, San Francisco has led the nation in the number of Red-masked Parakeets (153 in 2018) and last year it had more Townsend's Warblers (225) than anywhere else in the country. For the past four years, the city has also had the most Anna's Hummingbirds (1,271 in 2018) flying around than anywhere else in the U.S.

Besides the typical Brown Pelicans, American Goldfinches, blue herons, sparrows and hawks, volunteers also spotted some unusual birds, including the Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker and the Orchard Oriole. Both live in the East Coast and likely flew off course on their way to Mexico and Central America for the winter.

"Birds tend to end up in different places every year," explained Assmann. "If we saw a lot of them, it might be of concern, but one or two just means they are a little off course, but they will find their way back in the East Coast for the summer breeding season.

The Audubon Society has documented a "tremendous decline" in the bird population in the last 30 years, and it is not just the rare birds that are disappearing. Common birds are also being affected by climate change and loss of habitat.

"It used to be that everyone focused on the birds that were fairly rare and the numbers of those birds would be tracked very closely and no one would pay much attention to the common birds like Red-winged Blackbirds or American Robins. There birds are losing numbers as well," said Assmann.

He urges people to put in native plants with berries and seeds that will help sustain local bird populations.

The Golden Gate Audubon Society offers bird watching walks year round. For more information visit their web page.
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