2023 Christmas Bird Count Soars to New Heights

Almost two dozen intrepid Christmas Bird Count volunteers, led by Linnaean Society Board Member Alan Drogin and NYC Bird Alliance Senior Manager of Green Infrastructure Myles Davis, survey The Farm atop the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. Photo: NYC Bird Alliance.

2023 Christmas Bird Count Soars to New Heights 

The article appears in the spring 2024 issue of The Urban Audubon.

Carol Peace Robins
| March 5, 2024 

When someone mentions Hudson Yards, what crosses your mind? Shops? Restaurants? The Vessel? Crowds? 


Well, yes, birds! This year for the second time, Hudson Yards was one of the 17 locations surveyed by NYC Bird Alliance for the 124th Annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) on Sunday, December 17, 2023. 

NYC Bird Alliance’s official territory—called the New Jersey Lower Hudson Count Circle by National Audubon—was one of thousands across North America taking part. This particular count circle, as each zone is called, consists of Manhattan, Randall’s Island, Governors Island, and parts of NJ. And this year was a historic one.

Bird-wise, Hudson Yards is no Central Park. However, that’s exactly why NYC Bird Alliance chose it as one of its 17 sites. In an effort to highlight the allure of the City’s wide diversity of green space to native and visiting birds alike, and to appeal to both new and seasoned counters, it tapped some smaller areas like Hudson Yards, Madison Square Park, and Bryant Park. It worked! This year we had a record number of 400 registered volunteer counters.

Our Hudson Yards group of about twenty, led by volunteer Alan Drogin, spotted 10 different species, including a friendly Ovenbird who crept around long enough and close enough to pose for a lovely portrait. The final count was 2 Ovenbirds, 22 European Starlings, 21 House Sparrows, 54 Rock Doves, 46 White-throated Sparrows, 2 Grey Catbirds, 2 Eastern Towhees, 1 Northern Cardinal, 1 Swamp Sparrow, and 3 Double-crested Cormorants. This was, alas, less than last year’s count of 15 species, including a Hermit Thrush and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

Closeup of an Ovenbird. Photo: shaunl from Getty Images Signature

What was most surprising about this year’s Hudson Yards count, however, was the inclusion of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center and, more specifically, its 6.75-acre Green Roof.

“Our count on top of the Javits green roof was the first time a green roof had ever been included in the Christmas Bird Count,” said Myles Davis, NYC Bird Alliance Senior Manager of Green Infrastructure and co-lead of our count circle. “This was a really exciting opportunity for returning and first-time CBC volunteers.”

Davis gave our lucky group a private tour of the amazing farm, orchard, greenhouse, and “exclusive” herring gull nesting site in this truly unique space. 

“We've only just begun to understand the potential for green roofs and other forms of urban green infrastructure to support urban bird diversity, and I think it's really special that one of the country's longest-running wildlife censuses is now part of that effort.”

Only four White-throated Sparrows and three Double-crested cormorants were spotted on the roof that day. But it’s also worth noting that NYC Bird Alliance scientists have been counting species at the Javits Center since the Green Roof’s 2014 debut. And the current tally is…. 65!

Counts in diverse locations like the high-up Javits Green Roof and the pocket-sized Madison Square Park can help scientists understand how different habitats support bird populations over time. In Madison Square Park, leader Tod Winston led an accessible  “slow walk” count where volunteers observed 13 species, matching last year’s species total exactly. This year, species at Madison Square Park included Red-tailed Hawk, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Downy Woodpecker, and Hermit Thrush. 

The Christmas Bird Count is the longest-running community science bird survey project, originating on  Christmas Day 1900 when ornithologist Frank M. Chapman, an early officer in the very early days of the National Audubon Society, suggested a “Christmas Bird Census” that would count birds—a novel idea at the time to replace an earlier and more troubling Christmas activity that centered on shooting birds. That day, 27 first-ever bird counters tallied about 90 species in locations ranging from Toronto to Pacific Grove, California.

Now, more than a century later, tens of thousands of volunteers take part in the CBC around the world. The data collected is vital for researchers and scientists to assess the rise and fall of bird populations, to help protect species and their habitat, and more recently, to weigh the dangerous effects of climate change. 

While very helpful for protecting birds, the Christmas Bird Count also happens to be fun! Read more about the Christmas Bird Count, including NYC Bird Alliance’s final bird count tallies, at nycaudubon.org/christmas-bird-count. And make sure to join us next year by signing up for our monthly eGret eNewsletter.

In addition to the Christmas Bird Count, you can volunteer with NYC Bird Alliance year-round. Help protect wild birds and build a bird-safe New York City by joining our team!