Founded in 1904

Affiliated with the National Audubon Society

Our Mission: To bring the excitement of birds to our community through birding, education and the conservation of bird habitats

The Pasadena San Gabriel Valley CBC - A Brief History

he 2018 Pasadena-San Gabriel Valley Christmas Bird Count just concluded its 73rd year, and by all accounts it was a great success. One hundred and seventy-two species were recorded on count day, a record high. The full report will be published later, but I thought it might be interesting to take a brief look back at the beginning of the count. The first Pasadena-San Gabriel Valley CBC took place on December 28, 1946. World War II had ended just 16 months earlier and fewer than four million people lived in Los Angeles County.

In order to edify first time readers, the count circle is fifteen miles in diameter (as are all land-based CBCs) and centered at the intersection of San Gabriel Boulevard and Duarte Road. It ranges from Mt. Wilson on the north end to Santa Fe Dam on the east. The entire Whittier Narrows area is included and Lincoln Park represents the southwest border of the circle.

Twenty-eight birders participated in 1946, which seems a pretty decent number for that era. It’s obvious that the San Gabriel Valley area has had an active birding community for many decades. On count day, the group recorded one hundred and twenty-one species. I found it notable that those counters found ninety-five Spotted Doves, thirty-two Loggerhead Shrikes and thirty-three Northern Cardinals. To put that in a contemporary perspective, on the 2018 count those numbers were zero, three and one, respectively.

Also in the mix were three Ring-necked Pheasants. Long time count participants will remember the small population of these birds established through hunt club releases in the Whittier Narrows area. They are now long gone.

In part, it’s been the introduced species that have seen big changes, be it a decline (as in the case of Spotted Doves), or an introduction and increase of various parrots and parakeets, Eurasian Collared-Doves, Scaly-breasted Munias and Northern Red Bishops. None of those now common species were present in the early decades of the Pasadena CBC.

As far as declining numbers, native species too have felt the pinch of increasing development and urbanization. The aforementioned Loggerhead Shrikes, as well as Horned Larks and other open country birds, have either declined greatly or are now essentially absent from the count area. That said, many species are doing well and their numbers have not changed significantly over the years. Red-tailed Hawks, Anna’s Hummingbirds, Mourning Doves, Northern Mockingbirds, House Finches and others are adaptable and tolerate human activity well. Also, for the most part, the birds of the San Gabriel Mountains have not been much affected by the changes in the flatlands.

Published for Jon Fisher