By Erik I. Johnson, PhD., Director of Bird Conservation, Audubon Louisiana
Between December 14 and January 5, bird watchers from around the country will spend a perfectly good day counting birds for the 114th Christmas Bird Count (CBC), organized by the National Audubon Society. The longest-running citizen science program in the world, this annual event is an irreplaceable tool for researchers and the conservation community to learn about how our birds are doing – are their populations increasing or decreasing, and where is this happening?
More than 2,000 count circles are run around the country each year. Each CBC circle is 15 miles in diameter, and participants cover as much of this area as possible to find and tally all the birds they see and hear. To discover a CBC near you, see this map.
Some south Louisiana Christmas Bird Count circles have among the highest species counts of anywhere in the country. A mix of east and west, temperate and tropical, a stunning variety of birds can be found on Louisiana’s Christmas Bird Counts, such as Sandhill Cranes, Roseate Spoonbills, Vermilion Flycatchers, Buff-bellied Hummingbirds and Short-eared Owls, just to name a few.
The number and diversity of birds are found here because much of Louisiana’s coastal habitats are globally Important Bird Areas, strategically positioned at the base of the Mississippi Flyway. Supporting a variety of birds including many species of national conservation concern like Seaside Sparrows, Piping Plovers and Reddish Egrets, Louisiana’s coast is a critical wintering location for birds from across North America. As we face crucial decisions regarding restoration of Louisiana’s coastline to sustain our cultural and historical legacy, we also need to ensure that this monumental effort benefits birds and other wildlife. Data from the Christmas Bird Count have shown that shorebirds and marshbirds are among the fastest declining groups of birds along the Gulf Coast – no doubt as a consequence of habitat loss due to natural and man-made factors. Terns, sandpipers, plovers and rails are not doing as well as they used to because barrier islands are disappearing into the ocean and marshes are being converted to open water.
Nowhere else does the state bird, the pelican, mean so much to a state’s legacy and culture. Having come back from extinction in Louisiana to having multiple successful island-nesting colonies supporting tens of thousands of pelicans, a concerted effort to continue this success story is imperative. Other birds that also stand to benefit from coastal restoration include threatened Piping Plovers that forage on invertebrates along sandy and muddy shorelines, Reddish Egrets that dance in shallow estuaries to catch minnows and crustaceans, Royal Terns that plunge into bays after small fish and Marsh Wrens that secretively glean insects and spiders from the stems of marsh grasses.
We invite you to come enjoy some of the finest bird watching in the country and join a CBC, regardless of your experience level. If interested, please contact myself, Erik Johnson, regional coordinator and Director of Bird Conservation for Audubon Louisiana, or find out more at the CBC website.