The 2020 Christmas Bird Count

‘We saw 45 different species and over 1,700 individual birds’

Last Saturday, Dec. 19, a group of about 20 volunteers congregated early morning at the American Memorial Park, armed with binoculars and scopes, to spot birds around the island, as the CNMI took part in the Christmas Bird Count led yearly by non-profit environmental organization, the Audubon Society.

Overseeing the bird count for years here in the Marianas is the Division of Fish and Wildlife of the Department of Lands and Natural Resources.

Saipan Tribune was able to join the Bird Count this year for a couple of hours, where we managed to have an interview with wildlife biologist Emilie Kohler, who led the volunteers.

“Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count is one of the longest running community science programs—over 120 years,” Kohler said.

“It is a unique opportunity for people in the CNMI to contribute data to a long-term study that helps monitor the health and status of bird populations all over the world. It is also a great way for people in the community to learn how to identify birds in the Mariana Islands by sight and song.”

The first Christmas Bird Count occurred on Dec. 25, 1900 at 25 locations in North America. In 2019, a total of 81,601 people participated in 2,646 Christmas Bird Counts across the world. It is a fun event designed for new and experienced birdwatchers alike.

Counting birds

The goal of the Christmas Bird Count is to count as many individual birds and as many different species as possible in a single day within a specific location—or, what is called the “count area.”

Around Christmas time, migratory birds have already stopped their migrations and are settled on their wintering grounds, where, therefore, the Christmas Bird Count serves as a winter bird population census.

“The Christmas Bird Count raises awareness about avian biodiversity in the CNMI. I think most people would be surprised to learn the CNMI is home to 12 endemic bird species (species only found in the CNMI) and that over 20 species of migratory birds stopover in the CNMI every winter. We live in a very special place and the Christmas Bird Count is a way to celebrate our natural heritage,” Kohler explained.

The wildlife biologist shared that 20 community members volunteered for the Saipan count on Saturday. They were split up into four teams, each team heading to a different section of the island.

“We covered biodiversity hot spots all around the island. For example, the native limestone forest habitat in Marpi is a great place to see all our native forest birds and you can see a variety of migratory shore birds and wading birds foraging on the mudflats around the Eloy S. Inos Peace Park.”

Susupe Lake is a great place to see wintering migratory ducks and a colony of nesting Black Noddies. One can see many migratory shore birds along the open grounds, runways and taxiways at the Francisco C. Ada-Saipan International Airport. American Memorial Park is a great place to see a variety of bird species in wetland and shoreline habitats.

Volunteers also conducted the Christmas Bird Count on Rota last Sunday, Dec. 20, and the Tinian Christmas Bird Count will be occurring this week.

Rare bird sightings

Birds staying on the island to winter start to migrate come spring or fall, and the Christmas Bird Count—held toward the end of December to the beginning of January—makes it possible to see and identify reoccurring or new bird species.

“We saw 45 different species and over 1,700 individual birds. We had a rare sighting of some migratory species like a Eurasian Kestrel, a Lesser Sand Plover, and Black-naped Terns. We also saw endangered non-migratory species like the Saipan Reed-warbler (Gaga karisu), the Mariana Common Moorhen (Pulatatt), and the Mariana Swiftlet (Chachaguak).”

Aside from these rare migratory bird sightings, the volunteers also identified many common native birds including the Micronesian Myzomela (Egigi), Mariana Fruit Dove (Tottot), Micronesian Starling (Soli), and Bridled White-eye (Nosa).

Last year, all 15 Christmas Bird Count volunteers on Saipan counted 48 species, totaling 2,343 birds.

“The Christmas Bird Count is not the only program used to monitor bird populations in the CNMI. The Division of Fish and Wildlife conducts its own annual surveys, funded by the [U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s] Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program,” Kohler added.

“These long-term studies guide wildlife management decisions and conservation efforts. If people are interested in learning more about birds in the CNMI, they can contact the Division of Fish and Wildlife for more information and resources.”

To learn more about birds on island, contact Kohler at or at (670) 664-6032.

Iva Maurin | Correspondent
Iva Maurin is a communications specialist with environment and community outreach experience in the Philippines and in California. She has a background in graphic arts and is the Saipan Tribune’s community and environment reporter. Contact her at

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