Call it a holiday tradition for nature lovers: birders all over Southern California are heading outside for the 116th annual Christmas Bird Count. It's a nationwide survey of bird species organized by the Audubon Society.
But the numbers for the count have changed as California endures its fourth year of drought, and researchers wonder if the prolonged dry season is to blame.
"I think it’s really fun. I’ve done them myself for 20 years because it’s an annual tradition," said Andrea Jones, director of Bird Conservation at Audubon California. "You sort of build it into your holiday celebrations."
Even though it’s called the Christmas bird count — this year’s survey actually started December 15. Counters have seen some species wax, others wane. And while it’s been hard to say definitively, Jones said she's talked with colleagues who are working on the count, and they've reported a decline in raptors around the state.
"So the birds of prey, which really need these big open spaces to feed on mice and small mammals and song birds. Those are birds that seem to be getting really hit by the drought," Jones said.
On the other hand, Jones said, counters have noticed more birds than normal in cities and suburbs: little ones like Allen's Hummingbirds and Ruby-crowned Kinglets.
"Which actually makes sense," Jones said. "Because in the wild areas, they’re very dry, and so the birds are coming into places with lawns and feeders and water features."
If you'd like to participate in a count yourself, there's still time — the Christmas Bird Count ends January 5. Head to the Audubon Society website for more info.