San Francisco's Annual Bird Count Tallies 183 Species

The Acorn Woodpecker was one of the species counted 

If you were out in any of San Francisco’s natural areas, parks or wetlands on the last Friday of December, chances are you may have seen someone with a pair of binoculars and a clipboard, counting birds. This was the San Francisco part of the nationwide Christmas bird count, designed to provide a snapshot of the numbers of birds found around the country each year.

Annual Christmas Bird Counts have been held since 1900.  They were started by conservationists as an alternative to a practice in the late 1800s of having teams of hunters competing to see who could shoot the most birds and small mammals on Christmas Day. The first count in San Francisco was held in 1915. It has been conducted annually every year since 1983.

Each count is designed to identify and tally the birds within a defined 15-mile diameter circle during one calendar day. The counts are sponsored by the National Audubon Society and conducted by volunteers. 120 volunteers participated in the San Francisco count in 2013, tallying an impressive total of 183 different species of birds, an all-time record for San Francisco.

Volunteers start pre-dawn, looking for nocturnal owls, and search throughout the day, ending with a count dinner, where tallies are compiled and data is collected.

While the overall number of bird species set a record on the San Francisco count, volunteers noted a reduction in some species, such as the number of ducks on the Bay. And not a single California Quail, San Francisco’s official city bird, was found anywhere on Count Day.

Notable sightings included 26 Snowy Plovers, a threatened species; two Great Horned Owls at Land’s End, the first time this species has been seen there in 10 years; a Gray Catbird, species from the Eastern U.S. rarely, if ever, found in San Francisco; a Clapper Rail at Heron’s Head Park; and large numbers of Western Bluebirds.

This year, there will be 2,369 count circles across the Americas. Last year, the counts collectively tallied more than 60 million birds.  If you are interested in finding out more, contact the Golden Gate Audubon Society.

Birds pictured (top to bottom): Acorn Woodpecker, Western Bluebird, Snowy Plover

© Photos by David Assmann