Pete Mickelson, Jack Donachy, and Audrey Enyart look for birds along the Eyak River bridge during the Christmas Bird Count on Sunday, Dec. 17 2023. Photo by Kinsey Brown for The Cordova Times

Cordova’s bird watching community completed the annual Christmas Bird Count with the local chapter of the Audubon Society last week.  

The Christmas bird count is the nation’s longest running citizen science bird project and is hosted by the Audubon Society. The purpose of the count is to record winter bird sightings into a large database which ornithologists and ecologists then use to distinguish trends in diversity and abundance. The count is held in birding communities nationwide from Dec. 14 to Jan. 5 each year.  

This year marks the 52nd count held in Cordova and the 124th count nationwide. Regions are broken up into roughly 15-mile radius areas which represent “Count Circles.” Cordova’s bird counting group met at the Cordova Center early in the morning of Sunday, Dec. 17 to break into small groups each with a designated area to cover. Thirty Cordovans participated in the field, and one person counted from their personal feeder.  

Groups were given maps and a list of bird species to record their observations. Areas covered by the count include Orca Road, Powercreek Road, the Copper River Highway, and around town. 

Milo Burcham, local naturalist and wildlife photographer, helps organize the bird count each year. Burcham says that the group had good conditions for this year’s count.  

“We were dealt a spectacular day, especially when considering the weather just the previous night of pouring rains and high winds,” he said. 


The Copper River Delta area is known for its seasonal influx of migrating birds which feed on the algae and invertebrates of the wetland mudflats in the spring during the Copper River Shorebird festival. The Christmas Bird Count offers a winter complement to the summer bird counting efforts made by citizen scientists during the festival. In addition to adding to a national database, the trends recorded over the years during the Christmas Bird Count create a snapshot of winter bird activity and movement within a specific region as well. According to Burcham, Cordova has seen a relative drop in abundance of species over the years.  

“Species counts [up until] the 90s were often in the 60’s or 70’s,” Burcham said. “Most recently we have counted 50 to 60 species.”  

A shift in the types of birds observed has been noted by individual birders as well. For example, the Anna’s Hummingbird, a more seasonal species seen in the warm months, has been spotted more frequently during the wintertime. Burcham says that these trends and patterns may reveal effects of a changing climate and shifting habitats in the region.   

 This year the Cordova Christmas Bird Count recorded several interesting patterns. Birders observed a record number of four local species: Green-winged Teal, American Dipper, Red Crossbill, and the White-winged Crossbill. This year also tied with the previous year’s count of Anna’s Hummingbird as well as the Sharp-shinned Hawk. Of particular note this year was the abundance of finch species, such as crossbills and the Common Redpoll. According to Burcham this abundance is most likely due to a healthy cone crop in the local conifer forests, which represent a primary winter food source for these animals. Burcham notes that some bird family groups stood out this year as well.  

“There was also a good representation of raptor species,” he said. This group included Bald eagles, Sharp-shinned hawks, a Merlin, and the Northern Goshawk.  

Along with a healthy abundance of local cone- and seed-eating birds, several new species were recorded as well. Instances of a starling and a rock pigeon were recorded this year, both of which are invasive.  

“Until the appearance of a Eurasian Collared Dove a few years ago, Cordova had not seen any invasive species for over 30 years,” Burcham said.  

In total, the Christmas Bird Count in Cordova recorded and reported 8,029 birds this season. The most numerous species observed were Mallard (1,932), Common Merganser (876), White-winged Crossbill (654), and Bufflehead (591).