Where did the birds go?

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Migration, habitat loss contribute to dwindling presence

The annual Christmas Bird Count saw 5,881 less birds this year, making it the lowest count for the area in 20 years.

Even though it was a cloudy day with morning showers, the count was still lower than expected. This year’s bird count saw 16,449 birds, whereas last year they saw 22,330 birds.

Sixty members of the Peace River Audubon Society participated in the annual Christmas Bird Count Dec. 14. Peace River’s count encompassed roughly 176 square miles in Charlotte County, spanning from Port Charlotte to the Cecil B. Webb preserve. This is a nationwide effort where thousands of volunteers join in to count birds in order for organizations, such as the Audubon, to use this data to assess the health of bird populations and guide conservation action.

Participants also saw fewer species of birds than they have since 2013, meaning the types of birds weren’t as diverse this year. Volunteers saw 121 species, 15 less than last year.

There could be many reasons for these declines, according to the count’s organizer Tony Licata. Some birds could have migrated later in the season, changed their migration routes, or they have plenty of food up north, so the birds decided not to go down to Florida yet.

Another reason could be loss of habitat. The Killdeer population, which volunteers saw 43 fewer of this year, are usually seen in fields, however with new developments, they have lost their homes.

Participants only saw three Florida Scrub Jays this year.

bird count organizer
Bird count organizer Tony Licata discussed the count’s results at Thursday night’s Peace River Audubon Society meeting while clad in a bird-style hat. (Photo by Liz Hardaway)

“We used to see a lot more,” Licata said. “But with loss of habitat, there has just been a steady decline. They need a certain amount of space for breeding families. As the area gets chopped down, they have more trouble finding a good place to live. It’s not looking good.”

Current construction projects such as Sunseeker resort “disturbed some of the existing habitats the birds used,” Licata said. “Whether that’s permanent or not, we don’t know … Next year once things quiet down, we could see birds in that area or they could find a different area.”

But not all populations have declined. The Cattle Egret, for example, is an invasive species from South America that has flourished in Florida by finding ample bugs to munch on on highway medians. The Rock Pigeon also thrives in McDonalds’ parking lots, Licata said.

The Limpkin population has also grown exponentially due to an invasive apple snail, providing more food for the species to grow.

The Christmas Count started 120 years ago as a holiday tradition known as the Christmas “Side Hunt.” Hunters would go out and shoot birds, count them, and whoever had the most won.

On Dec. 25, 1900, ornithologist Frank Chapman, concerned over declining bird populations, decided to create a new tradition: the Christmas Bird Census, which would count birds during the holidays rather than hunt them.

This year’s Christmas Bird Count will be Saturday, Dec. 19. Their next meeting will be Feb. 20 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at First Alliance Church, 20444 Midway Blvd. in Port Charlotte.

If interested in participating in the bird count, or for more information about the Peace River Audubon Society, visit www.PeaceRiverAudubon.org.

How you can help wildlife conservation

  1. Plant native plants, decrease sodding & mulch lawns (reduces watering & fertilizing)
  2. Reduce single-use plastic (use cloth, aluminum, glass, silicon, bees wax paper)
  3. Recycle smartly & reduce contamination of single source waste collection
  4. Volunteer as a citizen scientist, join PRAS Christmas bird counts and use ebird to document climate change for migrating birds
  5. Buy in bulk, buy recycled goods, reuse items & reduce waste
  6. Use renewable energy, stop constant electronic usage, put the lights out at night
  7. Live sustainably, eat less meat, order less to reduce food waste & share more
  8. Protect water quality, be conscious of everything going down your drains and toilets
  9. Buy organic, support community farms, support regenerative agriculture
  10. Become an Advocate, commit to life-long learning and conservation of our planet

-Source: www.PeaceRiverAudubon.org 

Top 10 Birds

2019 Bird 2019 Count 2018 Bird 2018 Count
#1 Tree Swallow 2,142 Lesser Scaup 4,696
#2 Mourning Dove 1,887 Tree Swallow 3,541
#3 Lesser Scaup 1,537 Mourning Dove 1,933
#4 Common Grackle 1,038 Boat-Tailed Grackle 1,072
#5 White Ibis 956 White Ibis 1,040
#6 Double-Crested Cormorant 784 European Starling 971
#7 European Starling 711 Double-Crested Cormorant 941
#8 Boat-Tailed Grackle 690 Common Grackle 920
#9 Ring-Billed Gull 627 Laughing Gull 432
#10 Laughing Gull 486 Northern Mockingbird 376

Originally published in the Charlotte Sun on Jan. 17, 2020.

Click here to view the published article.

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