Hundreds Participate in Oakland's Christmas Bird Count

Jeanette Nichols watches birds near Port View Park in Oakland for the annual Christmas Bird Count.  (Sara Hossaini)

As the sun rose over the Port of Oakland, a group of about ten people donning jackets and hats peered through their binoculars. They are near Port View Park, scanning the sky for birds, like the Dark-eyed Junco or the Fox Sparrow.

The group is part of a larger set of about 250 Oakland bird watchers who participated in the 79th annual Christmas Bird Count on Sunday. It's one of 2,615 bird counts around organized by the Audubon Society that helps provide data on whether bird populations are growing or declining and reveal overall trends.

"You're out in nature, you're volunteering for a task that has a purpose, and you are seeing a lot of birds," said Judith Dunham, leader of the Port View Park group. "And it's really wonderful to spend the day contributing to citizen [led] science."

In the Oakland area, there have been long-term declines of certain bird populations. Dark-eyed Juncos have decreased by 35 percent, Fox Sparrows, 42 percent and Brewer’s Blackbirds, 65 percent. Tricolored Blackbirds have not been spotted at all in the past few years. There are also birds that have thrived, like the American crow and wild turkeys.

Dave Quady of Berkeley woke up at 3 a.m. to lead a group to Claremont Canyon in Oakland to listen for owls. He said they heard five Great horned owls and one Western screech owl.

Oakland's count, which covers a 15-mile area including Berkeley, Alameda, Emeryville, Orinda and Lafayette, is one of the most popular in the Western Hemisphere, according to Ilana DeBare of the Golden Gate Audubon Society. She said that it will take a few weeks for the Oakland group to make a final count of the birds they saw.

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The Christmas Bird Count began as a "more humane replacement" for the traditional Christmas hunt, according to DeBare. About 80,000 people will participate in the United States, Canada and parts of Latin America.

A study by the journal Science in October that used data from the Audubon's annual count showed a decline of three billion birds in North America's population since 1970, primarily as a result of human activity from agriculture and habitat loss.

KQED's Sara Hossaini contributed to this story.

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