Audubon Volunteers Track How Local Birds are Responding to Climate Change

This winter, through February 15, Audubon volunteers across the Great Lakes region are tallying vulnerable bird species as part of Climate Watch, Audubon’s twice annual community science program that explores how North American birds are responding to climate change.

“Here in the Great Lakes we want to keep seeing birds like the Eastern Bluebird and Red-Breasted Nuthatches at our feeders and local parks. Not only are they a joy to see, birds are also environmental indicators that tell us about the health of our ecosystems,” said Stephanie Beilke, conservation science manager at Audubon Great Lakes and a Climate Watch coordinator. “Audubon supports solutions to protect birds and people from the effects of climate change by achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. That’s why these volunteers are out here – to contribute to science that helps protect the places birds need today, and in a climate-altered future.”

According to Audubon’s 2019 climate change report, “Survival By Degrees,”  two-thirds of North American birds are vulnerable to extinction due to climate change unless immediate action is taken. Average temperatures across the region are expected to rise by the end of the century, which could force vulnerable birds out of the Great Lakes region if species are unable to adapt.  A 2020 Audubon study of Climate Watch observations confirmed projections that rising temperatures and changing precipitation patterns will likely result in the colonization of new territories by North American birds.

Volunteers are donning their binoculars and fanning across the Great Lakes in search of five target species that reside in the region: Eastern Bluebird, White-breasted Nuthatch, Red-breasted Nuthatch, American Goldfinch, and Eastern Towhee. These bird species were selected because they are easy to identify, and Audubon’s climate models for these species offer strong predictions for range shifts for Audubon scientists to test.

Volunteers serve a critical role, as their efforts to survey and collect data will document changes in the wintering activity of these species to capture how they are adjusting to a changing climate. Participants can join on their own or participate in a coordinated Climate Watch effort by an Audubon Chapter or Center.

In Indiana, rising temperatures and shifting weather patterns are threatening 27 percent of the state’s 208 bird species like the vulnerable Red-headed Woodpecker and Scarlet Tanager. Kim Ehn, president of the Dunes-Calumet Audubon Society and Climate Watch coordinator in Porter, Indiana has seen interest in the program grow over the past three years.

“Last year, following a winter storm, I braved heavy snowfall to observe and document the birds on my route – that’s how important these data are,” said Ehn. “It’s been incredible to see more and more volunteers take interest each year. Now I just remind participants not to wait until inclement weather hits to do their surveys.”

Climate Watch is a National Audubon Society community science program that occurs across North America over two distinct thirty-day periods each year, in the winter non-breeding and in the summer breeding season. Climate Watch is open to birders of all ages across the United States. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all participants in the Winter 2021 survey period must follow these guidelines to safely conduct the survey. Members of the public can be a voice for change by signing-up online to join the Audubon Great Lakes climate movement at