Annual Christmas Bird Count at Yosemite

Birders along the Wawona Road south of Yosemite Valley.
Birders along the Wawona Road just south of Yosemite Valley.

Next Yosemite Christmas Bird Count: Dec. 18, 2016 (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.

Yosemite's CBC has become a treasured holiday tradition, a reunion with birding friends, and a way to play a small role in a big conservation picture. The CBC in Yosemite has been going strong since 1932, with the cumulative number of annual participants reaching 1,413! For many, the holiday season would not be complete without the CBC.

Lincoln Sparrow seen near Foresta during 2012 Christmas Bird Count
Northern pygmy-owl spotted near Foresta during the 2012 Christmas Bird Count

This year on December 20, 2015, 35 participants divided up into seven groups, with the goal of counting as many species and individual birds as possible. Each group had at least one designated leader, a birding expert, who was responsible for the accuracy of the data. 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. This year, participants tallied 1,963 individual birds comprising 62 species.

Keen eyes and ears made for some great birding moments and highlights. Birders in El Portal confirmed a Red-naped Sapsucker. This is only the 3rd time this rare species has been observed during the CBC;other detections occurred in 1995 and 2002. Birders searching the east end of Yosemite Valley observed a flock of 13 Clark's Nutcrackers foraging on the ground. Yosemite is one of the few CBC's in California where this species is regularly observed. Clark's Nutcrackers have been observed on 15 Yosemite CBC's, with the high count being a flock of 119 individuals in 1960. Other highlights included a Rock Wren and Peregrine Falcon observed along Foresta Road in an area that was burned in the El Portal fire in July 2014. Bald Eagles seemed to be on display, with 3 individuals observed by two different groups of people. This doubles the total cumulative tally for this species;prior to this year 1 Bald Eagle was observed in 1951 and 2 were observed in 2011. These unexpected birds boosted the species tally, which made up for some surprising misses, like Band-tailed Pigeon, Mallard, and Great Horned Owl.

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 18, 2016.

View raw data results from 2008 - 2015 [125 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 Dec. 18, 2016. 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. Contact the Yosemite Christmas Bird Count Organizer, Sarah Stock, by email.

Additional 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 Old Big Oak Flat Road adjacent to Bridalveil Fall
Birders along the Old Big Oak Flat Road, 2015.

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

PO Box 577
Yosemite National Park, CA 95389


(209) 372-0200
The public information office is open from 9 am to 5 pm Pacific time (closed for lunch). Once connected, dial 3 then 5. If the ranger is already on the line, you'll be returned to the main menu. If the ranger is not there, you can leave a message and we will return your call.

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