The data for Audubon’s 116th annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is in!
When I spoke to CBC director, Geoffrey S. LeBaron this past January, after the count had just concluded, he correctly predicted that the ongoing El Niño cycle would significantly impact the count’s results.
As he writes in a just-published summary of the results, the extreme weather conditions impacted both birds and counters alike.
“The continuing, severe, long-term El Niño event wreaked havoc in the northwestern Pacific Ocean, with warm ocean temperatures altering the food chain for marine creatures and resulting in huge die-offs of seabirds, especially Common Murres. Storm after storm pummeled the Pacific Northwest coast. While the El Niño’s moisture began to address the historic drought in some regions of the west and southwest, these storms severely affected the ability of CBC participants to conduct their counts.”
Other areas of the country experienced mild weather conditions last winter, making it easy for CBC participants to get outside, but difficult for them to find birds to count. As LeBaron explains in his summary,
“… many species were dispersed around the open landscape rather than concentrated in the areas where birders usually encounter them during their time in the field.”
The beautiful thing about this year’s count is that while it may have been eventful, even unusual, the data won’t have to stand on its own. Rather, it will become part of Audubon’s long-term, scientific, historical data. In fact, Audubon’s 2014 climate change report was based on decades of findings, enabling scientists to predict the future of our avian friends.
Now that results of the 116th CBC have been compiled, I reconnected with LeBaron, asking him about the value of long-term data. He told me in a recent phone interview,
“The 2014 climate study is the perfect example of the value of the data from the CBC. We’ve already been able to track how birds have shifted their ranges over the last century. We have the historical record of birds and weather. With predictions of how the climate might change, it enables us to study what’s been done over the years and what might be happening with future climate change scenarios. It provides a new way to think about the future of conservation. We can think about the most important areas for groups of birds, and what they are likely to need in terms of conservation in the next 50-100 years.”
And, by documenting what’s happening to the birds as a result of climate change, we also can gauge how it will affect humans. As LeBaron pointed out, rising seas won’t just impact salt marsh sparrows, which will become extinct if they are unable to nest, but also half of the world’s population.
But what if the people in power don’t care about scientific facts, data, and evidence? According to LeBaron, you have to make the data personal. After all, almost everyone — regardless of their political persuasion—has a favorite bird that they enjoy spotting. Even the president-elect claims to care about birds (at least when it comes to keeping wind farms away from his golf courses).
According to LeBaron,
“Audubon really wants to focus on bringing this data to a personal level. When you are in conversation with people who like birds, it changes the whole conversation, and politics don’t matter. Suddenly you get that click and you can really talk. As more and more people are exposed and introduced to birds and nature, that’s going to make them care about it more.”