Audubon Climate Watch

By Linda Burek, Guest Writer

The National Audubon Society has implemented a program called Climate Watch, which uses developed models to predict seasonal changes in bird populations as a result of the changing climate. They are seeking to validate those models through a community science program. They have chosen to start the program by monitoring the presence of two species, bluebirds and nuthatches, during a winter and summer count.

These species were selected based on strong predictions of range shifts; however, more species will be included in the future.

National Audubon has divided the country in a continuous grid of climate squares that are 10 km x 10 km square. The protocol requires conducting a survey within 10 squares. The winter count takes place from January 15 to February 15 each year and the summer count from May 15 to June 15. During these windows, participants stop at 12 survey locations in “climate squares” and conduct a five-minute stationary count of all birds they see. The locations are selected based on the appropriateness of the habitat for the species selected.

Climate Watch coordinators are designated within regions across the country. I am the Climate Watch Coordinator for St. Johns County, Florida. Audubon predicts a decrease of the Eastern Bluebird population in the summer and a stable population in the winter in Northeast Florida. Brown-headed Nuthatch populations are projected to increase in both winter and summer in most of Northeast Florida. I chose bluebirds as the species to begin our efforts.  Who doesn’t like bluebirds?    

Adult Eastern Bluebird

Bluebirds are insect eaters and enjoy open habitats near trees. Ideal locations are pastures, parks, golf courses, savannahs, and forest clearings.  In St. Johns County, bluebirds can sometimes be seen around retention ponds surrounded by grass and a few trees. Bluebirds sit on a perch and wait for prey and then drop down to pick it up. They are secondary cavity nesters. They cannot make their own cavity, so they depend on re-using existing cavities or nest boxes.    

The 2019 winter count is almost complete. Three of the survey points are located within the GTM Research Reserve. These locations were chosen based on habitat. There were no bluebirds present during the count this winter. After data is submitted from the counts, Audubon makes the results accessible on the Climate Watch website


If you are interested in the Climate Watch program, more information can be found at www.audubon.org/conservation/climate-watch.  This site includes maps that depict the climate watch squares, survey locations, predictions of bluebird and nuthatch presence during winter and summer, and the results of completed surveys.  Information specific to the St. Johns Audubon County counts can be found at www.stjohnsaudubon.com.

If you are interested in participating in the St. Johns County Climate Watch counts, please contact me at ldburek@gmail.com.

About the Writer

Linda Burek volunteers with the GTM NERR and serves as the Treasurer of the St. Johns County Audubon Society where she leads some of their citizen science efforts. She leads the Climate Watch program for St. Johns County and is going to start leading the St. Augustine Christmas Bird Count starting this year. She moved to Florida a little over three years ago after she and her husband sold their Wild Birds Unlimited store in Maryland. She has a background in information technology.

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