Christmas Bird Count

Birders south of Yosemite Valley on the Wawona Road 2016
Birders along the Wawona Road just south of Yosemite Valley in 2016.

Next Yosemite Christmas Bird Count: Dec. 15, 2019 (details below)

Tens of thousands of volunteers across the Americas join together annually during the Christmas Bird Count (CBC). The event provides people a full day to celebrate birds. Since 1932, Yosemite's participation has contributed nearly 100,000 observations to the conservation event. For many people, spending the day observing birds while reuniting with birding friends and contributing to bird conservation is what makes their holiday season complete.

Last year’s Yosemite CBC took place on December 16, 2018, when 40 participants divided up into six groups, with the goal of counting as many species and individual birds as possible. Each group had at least one designated expert leader, who was responsible for the accuracy of the bird identifications and data collection. All day, the groups searched their respective areas, covering a 15-mile radius circle, which included El Portal, Foresta, Yosemite Valley, and Chinquapin/Yosemite West. Just before dark, everyone convened in Yosemite Valley to warm up, eat good food, share their birding highlights, and tally results. In 2018, participants tallied 2,368 individual birds comprising 68 species – just below the record high of 70 species.

Northern Pygmy Owl during 2016 CBC event
Northern pygmy-owl spotted during the 2016 Christmas Bird Count.

Keen eyes and ears made for some great birding moments and highlights. The early morning hoots of a pair of great horned owls and a California spotted owl kicked off the 2018 count. Birders up high in the Chinquapin zone observed a turkey vulture (observed previously in 1979 and 2010) and birders lower down observed a record high count for California scrub jay (116 individuals). In El Portal birders observed a rare red-breasted x red-naped sapsucker hybrid (observed previously only in 2008 CBC). High numbers of mallard (26 individuals), oak titmouse (63), bushtit (217), and spotted towhee (87) broke previous count records; California thrasher numbers were the second highest (5 individuals compared to 8 in 1973). Since this year was just two species below the record high (68 versus 70 species), it’s surprising that some reliable species such as common merganser and Brewer’s blackbird were missed.

Some historic highlights from Yosemite's Christmas Bird Count include:

  • A record 1,100 band-tailed pigeons counted in 1971
  • A record 560 mountain chickadees in 1972
  • A record 483 golden-crowned kinglets in 1953
  • Two rare hooded mergansers spotted in 1940
  • Great gray owls observed during five different annual bird counts

View raw data results from 2008 - 2018 [203 kb XLSX]

white-headed woodpecker
White-headed woodpecker spotted during the 2014 annual event.

The next Yosemite Christmas Bird Count is December 15, 2019. To attend the full-day event, bring binoculars, a field guide, lunch, plenty of warm clothes and sturdy shoes. Plan to be outside all day, from around dawn to dusk. An annual compilation potluck dinner closes the day to allow participants to share Yosemite birding highlights. To participate, you must register in advance by contacting the Yosemite Christmas Bird Count Organizer.

More Information

When bird-watching, experienced birders confidently identify birds by just a glimpse. (See illustrations of Yosemite's most common species.) Remember that a bird’s feathers change as an adult molts into its winter plumage. For many species, a male bird’s winter plumage is dull compared to his colorful plumage in the spring when he is interested in attracting a female with whom to mate. Also, note subtle nuances in a bird’s song or call—long trills or short chips. In the winter, birds rarely sing but make call notes to defend a territory, announce the presence of a predator, or to keep up with a mixed-species foraging flock.
Birders along the Wawona Road just south of Yosemite Valley 2015
Birders along the Wawona Road just south of Yosemite Valley in 2015.

Last updated: March 5, 2019

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