By Dessi Sieburth

The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is an annual event around Christmas time that I always look forward to. I did my Christmas Bird Count with LA Audubon Society at Griffith Park, and I also volunteer to count birds with other Audubon chapters. I sign up for a specific area with my Audubon chapter and count all birds within that area. I mark the birds I see or hear in a checklist. The CBC is an annual program run by the National Audubon Society. It is a bird census that depend on many volunteers. Thousands of volunteers in the US, Canada, and many other countries go out and count birds in a 24 hour period. The CBC is important because it helps bird conservation. From the CBC data, scientists can find out about changes in bird populations. They are especially interested in declining species. Thanks to the collected data, conversationalists can take actions to help birds that need protection. Participating in the Christmas Bird Count is also a lot of fun because it is a great way to bird the same area every year or try a new area. It is also an excellent opportunity for beginner birders since they can team up with expert birders. I always learn something on the CBC, and it is a great way to participate in a citizen science project.

GreenHeron-Dessi-Sieburth webThe Green Heron is one of my favorite birds found on the CBC. | Photo by Dessi Sieburth

You never know what birds you’ll find. Three of my favorite species I’ve seen on the CBCs I did are Green heron, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Red-shouldered Hawk. These birds can easily be missed on a count due to their secretively, low abundance, and by simply being overlooked. Green Herons are tool using birds and they are found in marshes and wetlands. They are one of the few herons that have been known to lure fish in with bread and worms. Green Heron used to be called the Green-backed Heron and was considered a single species with Striated Heron and Galapagos Heron. This small heron has yellow feet, a rusty neck, and a dark cap. In spite of its name, there is not much green on the Green Heron, and its name does not describe it well.
It is always a treat to see a Red-shouldered Hawk on the CBC count. It is a raptor of riparian areas. There are 5 subspecies of the Red-shouldered Hawk. The California subspecies is brightest, the Eastern subspecies is slightly paler, and the Florida subspecies is palest. The Red-shouldered Hawk can be identified by its rufous shoulder patches, reddish underparts, and a boldly striped tail. They mainly eat small rodents, but they can also eat frogs, snakes, and birds.

Red-shoulderedHawk-by-Dessi-Sieburth crop webRed-shouldered Hawk | Photo by Dessi Sieburth

The White-breasted Nuthatch is often found in open areas with large trees. This small bird loves to climb upside down on the trunks of trees. They have been recorded to store nuts in the bark of trees. There are 4 subspecies, which will very likely get split into 3 or 4 species soon. The subspecies vary mainly by voice. Nuthatches get their name from their habit of putting nuts inside the bark of trees, and then whacking them to “hatch” the seed out of the nut. White-breasted Nuthatches can be identified by their back cap, short tail, and gray upperparts.

White-breastedNuthatch-Dessi-Sieburth webWhite-breasted Nuthatch | Photo by Dessi Sieburth

None of these bird species are dramatically declining, however, many bird populations are declining greatly. Spotted Dove and Loggerhead Shrike are examples of greatly declining birds in Los Angeles County. It is important to collect data on bird populations. The CBC count is an excellent tool to get information about bird numbers to scientists. The success of the CBC and much of the future of our birds depends on people who volunteer for the CBC.