Puget Sound Seabird Survey

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What is PSSS?

The Puget Sound Seabird Survey (PSSS) is a community science program managed by Seattle Audubon that trains 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 shoreline habitat. It is the only land-based, multi-month seabird survey in the Southern Salish Sea.

Interested in checking out the data set?

Access all data through the Asgard Data Marketplace. Here’s a preview.

Test your Seabird Identification Skills 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.

Training Dates & Locations 2021

Information about trainings can be found in the PSSS FAQ page.

Can’t make it to one of our trainings? Check out our Training Videos:
Full PSSS Protocol 
How to record Bearing measurements

How to record Distance measurements

What is PSSS?

Who 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.


Double-Crested Cormorant


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 2021-2022 survey season here.

Who is PSSS?


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 how to measure your arm length and eye height.

Survey Summary: 2018-2019

The 2018-2019 season of the Puget Sound Seabird Survey collected data from 154 active survey locations. A huge thank you to all 250 volunteers who took part this season, contributing over 500 hours in survey time. During the 1,042 surveys that took place from October 2018 to April 2019, 56 different species of seabird were recorded. For more detailed information, review the full 2018-19 survey report.

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 seabirds” Northwest Fisheries Science Center, 20 January 2015

Seabirds make choices, revealing Puget Sound’s health” Christopher Dunagan, Kitsap Sun, 14 December 2013


Oil Spill Response Program

In 2018, Seattle Audubon established an oil spill “observe and report” response program to be implemented at PSSS sites. This program puts 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 train all active volunteers to conduct oil presence surveys and ad-hoc PSS surveys in the event of an oil spill. To learn more about the program, please view our Oil Spill Response Manual and materials under the Toolkit.

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.