Home Page
 Towhee's Blog (external link)
 South-Western Oregon
 Oregon Specialties
 Northern Californian specialties
 Birding San Francisco
 Not Just Birds
 History of US Ornithology
 A Yank Birds in Europe

 About Towhee.net
 Photo Gallery


 Harry Fuller Birding Tours


1999 was the 100th annual American Christmas Bird Count.  The first one was organized in 1900 by Frank Chapman, ornithologist at the American Museum of Natural History.  He was also founder of "Bird-Lore" which became "Audubon Magazine."  Chapman enlisted 26 other birders in that first count, including Witmer Stone, legendary birder of Cape May, New Jersey.

William Dawson, author of multi-volume Birds of California, and bird artist Allan Brooks were the first CBC team to break 100 species.  That was in San Diego County, California, 1913.

Golden Gate Audubon CBCs

My sources are old issues of "The Gull" and CBC online.  I studied counts for Berkeley, Hayward-Fremont, Oakland and San Francisco.  Many of the early counts included far smaller areas covered than today's more organized, better staffed counts.

The first Bay Area Christmas Count was Berkeley, 1915.  That count listed 23 species, with Bushtit the most common.  The next and last Berkeley count was in '48.

 California Quail  The earliest CBC I found for San Francisco was 1916.  Coot, Mallard and California Quail were the most plentiful birds.  Early counts covered Marina to Lake Merced, ignoring McLaren, Candlestick and the rest of eastern San Francisco.  It included no territory outside the city limits.

The first Oakland count was '35.  (NOT in the online database.)  Seven counters had 108 species.

Most numerous in that count: Least Sandpiper, over 5600.  Top ducks: Pintails and Canvasbacks, over 1300 each.  Leading passerines: Brewer's Blackbirds and House Finches.  Three weeks later, a Lake Merritt census had over 1800 Canvasbacks, over 500 each of Scaups and Ruddy Ducks.  12 Mallards.

Since its inauguration in '68 Hayward-Fremont has missed only one year.  San Francisco had a hiatus from 1964-83.

Local Trends

I compared CBC numbers for species from different habitats.

 Brown Pelicans (photographer Calvin Lou)  Brown Pelican—Certainly increasing since the ban on D-D-T.  Hayward didn't get one for its first decade, now they are annual.  Oakland had them regularly in the '70s, now averages about 100/year.  San Francisco with its ocean coast shows a dramatic increase with an average of less than 50/year before '60, an average of over 180/year this decade.  The high: 531 in '97.

Canvasback—Sadly disappearing duck.  Along with the Pintail the Breeding Bird Survey shows a serious decline in Canada, but happier results in the U.S.  Old CBC numbers seem fantastic.  Hayward reported 7,000 in '72, but hasn't topped 1300 any year IN THE 1990s.  Oakland had 22,000 [not a typo] in '55, over 9,700 in '60.  High in the Nineties: 971. 

Red-shouldered Hawk—Nearly wiped out by shooting, now definitely re-established.  First found on '36 count in S.F., then reappeared in '58.  It became regular after '84 and has numbered 20 or more yearly since '94.  It became annual in Hayward this decade and in the Nineties is in double-digits.  Oakland's first: '74, the bird has been annual since '83, now in double-digits.

Mourning Dove—Reflecting a national trend, this bird is far more numerous that it was fifty years ago.  Some early counts in this survey had none.  Hayward: population still growing. 

California Quail—Breeding Bird Survey shows our Quail fairly stable over much of its range.  It's hurting here.  San Francisco had over 300 in '47 and '49.  The high in the Nineties was 131 despite greater area covered.  In fact, the bird is of special concern in San Francisco as it struggles to survive in Presidio and Golden Gate Park.  Hayward is also trending down.  Oakland had over 800 Quails in '74, '75, '78, '79, '81.  There was a crash in '82 and the count has not recovered.  Every Oakland count since '91 has found under 200.

 Common Raven.  Photo by May and Godwin Woon.  Crow, Raven—Steady growth and expansion.  Ravens have been seen in Hayward count last 3 years.  They became annual in Oakland in '80s, by '97 they reached a peak of 54.  S.  F.  was in single digits in thre Fifties, the high was 166 in '95 CBC.  Crows now seem at their highest level in the Hayward count, having leveled off in S.  F.  and Oakland.

Bushtit, Chickadee, California Towhee—These local nesters seem to be fairly stable.  The Towhee is actually more common in San Francisco now than it was forty or more years ago.

Yellow-rumped and Townsend Warblers—The Yellow-rumped has always been abundant and prone to explosive single year numbers.  The Townsend either has increased considerably, or our birders now are more thorough and numerous.  '98 was record year of 32 in Hayward.  S.  F.  had a record 361 in '97.

Pygmy Nuthatch—Still not in Hayward count.  Peaked in Oakland with 66 in '93 after debut in '81.  Unheard of in S.F.  before the 70s apparently.  During the period with no counts in S.F.  these tykes moved in…and are now annually counted in the hundreds.

American Robins—Prone to broad fluctuations of annual populations, but show no sign of average decrease.  San Francisco had its highest count in '95, Oakland in '97 with over 12,000.  It is worth noting that the breeding Robin population in San Francisco is different than the wintering population and before settlement, San Francisco did NOT have breeding Robins.

See also "Bay Area Christmas Bird Counts - Reading the Numbers" (2007).


TOWHEE.NET:  Harry Fuller, 820 NW 19th Street, McMinnville, OR 97128