Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida
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Counting Florida’s Birds this Christmas

By: Kyle Grammatica

Birds play an important, and often overlooked, role in Florida’s ecosystem. Some keep other species of animals and insects in check, others act as pollinators or planters, and some like vultures are important in the decomposing process of animals. If you’re interested in participating in research that will directly benefit these wonderful animals, look no further than the Audubon Christmas Bird Count!

The Audubon Christmas Bird count has been a tradition for 120 years. It was first suggested by ornithologist and early officer in Audubon Society, Frank M. Chapman in 1900. He and other conservationists were concerned about the over hunting of native bird species as a result of Christmas time “Side-Hunts.” The Christmas Bird Count, or the Christmas Bird Census at the time, was proposed as a new tradition aimed at counting birds during Christmas instead of hunting them. On the very first Christmas Bird Count, 25 counts were held, ranging from Toronto, Canada to Pacific Grove, California and recorded around 90 species in total.

The Christmas Bird Count Today

Today, Christmas Bird Counts are held annually from December 14 through January 5th. Audubon and other conservation organizations use the data collected through these counts to determine the health of bird populations and help guide conservation action. The long-standing tradition of the Christmas Bird Count has helped biologists and wildlife conservationists study the long-term changes in the health and population size of North America’s native bird species.

Information from the Christmas Bird Count has been used by many organizations for climate change and conservation reports, including

  • Audubon’s 2014 Climate Change Report;
  • The Environmental Protection Agency’s 2012 report on climate change;
  • The 2009 State of the Birds report by the North American Bird conservation Initiative and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service; and
  • The 2007 Audubon Common Birds in Decline Report.

In Florida bird counts are currently underway, but some worrying signs are already appearing. Dennis Olle, who has led the Miami bird count for 38 years, says, “A lot of our native birds are no longer present… You just can’t find them in our urban environment. They’ve been replaced by large exotic birds from somewhere else, and significantly by parrots and parakeets.” Many of the open areas that birds rely on for habitat are being developed into residential or business areas. Also, natural areas may exist but may not be bird friendly. The bird counters in Miami were more likely to come across invasive parrots than native species like the brown thrasher or red-winged blackbird. There is also the issue of attracting new birders to participate.

Florida is home to an incredible variety of native birds, including some found nowhere else in the world, like the Florida scrub-jay. These species are treasured by people and essential to maintaining a healthy ecosystem. By participating in bird counts you can directly participate in research that will be used to protect these wonderful animals. If you are interested in participating in the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, check here to find birding group near you. You can also donate here to fund conservation projects across the state of Florida.

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