Climate Watch

Eastern Bluebird

White-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Photos: Terry Shaw

Audubon’s Climate Watch is a new crowd-sourced science program that explores how North American birds are responding to climate change. In 2014, Audubon released the Audubon Birds and Climate Change report that predicts that more than half of North American bird species will lose more than 50% of their current climatic range by 2080. In response, thousands of people asked how they could help make the world a better place for birds. Now, you can help by observing birds in your area, using a specific protocol, to help us learn about how birds are responding to climate change.

Climate Watch aims to document species’ responses to climate change by having volunteers in the field look for birds where Audubon’s climate models project they should be in the 2020s.

Audubon Climate Watch will focus on bluebirds – Eastern Bluebird, Mountain Bluebird and Western Bluebird and nuthatches – White-breasted Nuthatch, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown-headed Nuthatch, and Pygmy Nuthatch. Bluebirds and nuthatches are easy to identify and Audubon’s climate models for these species offer strong predictions for range shifts.

Surveys take place January 1-15 and June 1-15. Chapters and volunteers are free to conduct their surveys at any time during those windows.

The map of North America which has been overlaid with a grid of 10 km x 10 km squares showing species-specific predictions for each square based on the climate models will be provided to pilot volunteers. A chapter Climate Watch coordinator will pick ten squares in the chapter area and, using the maps provided, volunteers will survey appropriate habitat within a square and conduct twelve point counts of 5 minutes each and record the number and species of all birds seen or heard within 100 meters. Point counts within a given square should be separated by at least 200 meters. The twelve point counts in each square can be done by the same person or different people.

Climate Watch surveys are conducted in ten area 10 km x 10 km squares where climate models predict the future ranges of the bluebirds and nuthatches. Shown here are the predictions for Eastern Bluebirds. Yellow and orange are areas where climate suitability indicates population gain; gray indicates stability; and blue indicates population loss.

Printable and digital mapping resources, instructional materials, and training is being provided to chapters’ coordinators.

Volunteers in pilot surveys generally were able to complete one survey square in 2-4 hours (twelve 5-minute point counts per square). Surveys should all be done before noon. It is up to each participant how much time to spend on the overall activity, but make sure to coordinate with your chapter Climate Watch Coordinator about your level of interest. Some advance scouting and planning may be required to choose survey point locations.

Each 5-minute checklist should be submitted through eBird separately
and volunteers should email a link to their eBird checklist to the project team at climatewatch@audubon.org. Complete instructions will covered in the Climate Watch training.

Audubon is using general bird data, such as reported through eBird, to help inform this program, however data reported using the Climate Watch protocol measures detectability in a way that general birding data does not. This protocol is being implemented in areas where the birds do not yet have range, or may be abandoning their range and that focus is a very important part of measuring how the birds will respond to climate change.

This new program will be important to learning how birds are responding to climate change and your participation will be a valuable and important part of that process.

Much like with the Christmas Bird Count there are two potential roles for individuals interested in volunteering with the Climate Watch project:

Coordinator: Volunteers who manage their chapter’s participation in Climate Watch by recruiting participants, coordinating their efforts, and ensuring that the data they collect are submitted to the national Climate Watch team. Because the chapter areas are small and neither covers ten 10 km x 10 km squares,  Menunkatuck and Quinnipiac Valley Audubon Societies will be partnering in Climate Watch with a joint Climate Watch Coordinator.

Participant: Anyone conducting Climate Watch point counts in coordination with their chapter’s Climate Watch Coordinator.

Training will be provided to participants so that they understand the protocol for collecting data and how to submit the data with eBird. Printed and digital maps and survey data sheets will be provided to participants.

For questions about Climate Watch, email climatewatch@menunkatuck.org.

If you are interested in participating, complete the registration form.