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. 17, 2017 (details below)

Tens of thousands of volunteers across the Americas join together annually during the Christmas Bird Count (CBC). The event provides a full day to celebrate birds. Since 1932, Yosemite's participation has contributed more than 97,000 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 18, 2016, when 45 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 El Portal to warm up, eat good food, share their birding highlights, and tally results. In 2016, participants tallied 1,846 individual birds comprising 70 species – a tie with 2011 for the greatest number of species counted!

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 California Spotted Owl kicked off the 2016 count. This is only the 5th time a Spotted Owl has been detected during the CBC; other detections occurred in 1984, 1985, 1989, and 1991. Birders in Foresta observed two rare sparrow species: two Chipping Sparrows (observed during 2 prior CBCs in 1973 and 1994) and a Lincoln’s Sparrow (observed during 3 prior CBCs in 1954, 2011, and 2012). Other highlights included two Merlins observed in El Portal and Foresta (6th CBC), Pygmy Nuthatch observed in Foresta (9th CBC), Northern Mockingbird in Yosemite Valley (11th CBC), and Rufous-crowned Sparrow (15th CBC) and Rock Wren in El Portal (17th CBC). A high number of Cedar Waxwings (89 individuals) in the El Portal area broke the previous high count record from 2009 (53 individuals), whereas Varied Thrushes were sparse with only one individual detected in Yosemite Valley. Since this year was a tie for the highest number of species observed, it’s surprising that some common birds such as Mallard and Great Horned Owl were missed.

Spending the day with birds and birders made for a great start to the holiday season! See you at next year's Yosemite Christmas Bird Count on Sunday, December 17, 2017.

View raw data results from 2008 - 2016 [121 kb XLSX]

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

The next Yosemite Christmas Bird Count is December 17, 2017. 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: February 1, 2017

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