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Surf Scoter © Garret Lau


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Survey Sites

Data Analysis

Birds of PSSS


What is PSSS?

The Puget Sound Seabird Survey (PSSS) is a community and citizen science survey managed by Seattle Audubon that empowers volunteer birdwatchers to gather valuable data on wintering seabird populations in Puget Sound, Strait of Juan de Fuca, and waters surrounding the San Juan Islands. Together, our team captures a snapshot of live seabird density on more than 5,400 acres of nearshore saltwater habitat. It is the only land-based, multi-month survey in the Southern Salish Sea.

Learn more about PSSS:         History/Objectives    Training  

Express interest in the 2019-2020
PSSS Season


*NEW* Oil Spill Response Program

This year, we are establishing a new opt-in oil spill "observe and report" response program. This program allows us to put PSSS observers’ local knowledge and familiarity with birds and the PSSS protocols into action to provide additional information during the early stages of a catastrophic oil spill. We hope to train all of our active volunteers for the 2018-19 season to conduct oil observance surveys and ad-hoc PSS surveys in the event of an oil spill. To read more about the program, please view our Oil Spill Response Manual and materials under the Toolkit.




April 6, 2019


PSSS Expands to the Canadian Border

Seattle Audubon’s Science Program recently received a generous grant from the Environmental Protection Agency through the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife that will allow us to expand PSSS by establishing new survey sites northward from Deception Pass to Blaine, including the San Juan Islands. These new sites will be established summer of 2018 and will be ready to be surveyed by October 2018. The expansion also involves creating an accompanying oil spill action plan that involves training our volunteers to conduct an immediate ad hoc seabird survey to document the effect of a future oil spill on seabirds within Puget Sound. 



How are your seabird identification skills?
Test them out with our PSSS Seabird ID Quiz!

  The PSSS Seabird ID quiz is meant to provide Seattle Audubon with a standardized way to learn more about everyone's identification skills, and will aid us in putting together survey teams. There are 15 questions, and should take you no more than 10 minutes.

  Try it out by clicking this link: PSSS Seabird ID Quiz


Survey Summary: 2017-18

The 2017-18 season of the Puget Sound Seabird Survey collected data from every one of the 122 active survey locations. A huge thank you to all 203 volunteers who took part this season (a project record!!), contributing over 2,000 hours of effort to the project. During the 838 surveys that took place from October 2017 to April 2018, 56 different species of seabird were recorded. For more detailed information, review the full 2017-18 survey report.


Training Dates & Locations 2019: 


Wednesday, 18 September 2019 - Lincoln Park (map), West Seattle - 5:30-7:30pm
Thursday, 19 September 2019 - Fort Ward Park (map), Bainbridge Island - 5:30-7:30pm
Wednesday, 25 September 2019 - Fort Worden Park (map), Port Townsend - 5:30-7:30pm
Friday, 27 September 2019 - Boulevard Park (map), Bellingham - 5:30-7:30pm
Saturday, 28 September 2019 - TBD based on interest, Anacortes - 11:30am-1:30pm
Tuesday, 1 October 2019 - Owen Beach, Point Defiance Park (map), Tacoma - 5:30-7:30pm
Thursday, 3 October 2019 - Golden Gardens Park (map), Seattle - 5:30-7:30pm
TBD based on interest - West Bay Park (map), Olympia - 5:30-7:30pm 

Read about PSSS in the Kitsap Sun


2015 study indicates increase in occurrence of Puget Sound Seabirds

A recent analysis of seven years of bird observations by volunteer birdwatchers from Seattle Audubon Society’s Puget Sound Seabird Survey has found positive trends in several Puget Sound seabird species that had been in decline since the 1960s and 1970s.

The analysis focused on 18 seabird species that are indicators of Puget Sound environmental health at 62 survey locations from Whidbey Island to Olympia. The study found positive trends in occurrence of 14 species, including cormorants, grebes, sea ducks, loons, and alcids. However researchers cautioned that positive trends in sightings do not necessarily reflect increasing populations. For example, federally listed marbled murrelet populations continue to decline across Washington. The research also documented local hotspots for certain species, which may reflect especially important habitat or prey the birds depend on.

In addition, the study indicated that four species were in decline: white-winged scoter, brant, western grebe and red-necked grebe. These declines may result from geographical shifts or prey declines in Puget Sound or the Salish Sea, or environmental threats to their nesting grounds elsewhere. Similar citizen-science data from other areas have indicated that western grebes appear to have shifted to the south, out of the Puget Sound region.

The Puget Sound Seabird Survey monitors the presence of seabirds during winter months when many seabird species are most abundant around the Sound. More than 250 experienced volunteers have participated in the survey since its inception in 2007. At each survey location volunteers identify bird species and utilize distance sampling methods to collect data.

Read the full article and science paper here.

Past Media Coverage

"Puget Sound's winter seabirds: Are there more or are they just more dispersed?Martha Baskin, PRX, 8 February 2018

"Seabird numbers: A surprising trend" Martha Baskin, Crosscut, 5 March 2015

"'Citizen science' reveals positive news for Puget Sound seabirdsNorthwest Fisheries Science Center, 20 January 2015

"Seabirds make choices, revealing Puget Sound's healthChristopher Dunagan, Kitsap Sun, 14 December 2013




What is PSSS?


Beginning birders willing to commit to learning seabird identification, as well as intermediate and expert birders who are confident with their seabird ID skills.






All "seabird" species: geese, swans, diving and dabbling ducks, loons, grebes, cormorants, gulls, terns, murres, murrelets, Pigeon Guillemots, auklets and puffins. Because the presence of raptors can affect the distribution of seabirds, hawks, eagles and falcons are also recorded.

Browse all seabird species here





Survey sites are specific locations established by Seattle Audubon. Nearly all are located on publicly-accessible saltwater shoreline.

See all active sites on an interactive map.




All surveys are synchronized to take place during a four hour window (determined by Seattle Audubon) on the first Saturday of the month, October through April. Each survey is 15-30 minutes in duration.

Read the PSSS schedule for the 2018-2019 survey season here.





Using a ruler and a compass, surveyors gather data that allows scientists to estimate bird density through 'distance sampling'. Simply counting the number of birds in a given location is a simpler approach, but it forces scientists to assume that all birds are detected by observers. In reality, detection of any species declines with the distance from the observer: poor sighting conditions, quality of observing equipment, and observer inexperience all contribute to declining detection likelihood as distance increases. Distance sampling provides a robust approach to estimating density and allow for calculation of less biased density estimates.

Learn more about the PSSS protocol here.



                          Learn more about birds on the SAS Science pages


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