From December 14, 2019 – January 5, 2020 the National Audubon Society held its 120th Christmas Bird Count (CBC). Started in 1900 on Christmas Day by ornithologist Frank Chapman, with 27 dedicated birders, this Christmas Bird Count was the beginning of what is now a massive effort by thousands of volunteers across the U.S., Canada and other countries in the Western Hemisphere to count every bird they see or hear within a given circle on a given day.
Each count takes place in an established 15-mile wide diameter circle. Volunteers through a cooperative effort set out to get the best species’ identifications and count of birds in a single 15-mile diameter circle. The day’s count gives an indication of the total number of birds in the circle on that day.
The data collected by the many observer hours over the past century have allowed researchers, conservation biologists, wildlife agencies and other interested individuals to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America. When combined with other surveys, scientists learn how bird populations have changed over time and within certain locations.
As the 120th Audubon CBC got underway, I was looking on the Audubon CBC website and learned that while many of Florida’s Gulf coastal areas were in active count circles, much of Fort Myers Beach, including the Little Estero Critical Wildlife Area and Lovers Key State Park were not included in any circle. Knowing how important this area is for shorebirds, I was alarmed that it was not part of the CBC. Even though I was a week past Audubon’s application deadline to start a circle, I sent in my request to the CBC Administrator. Fortunately, Geoff LeBaron was quick to email me back to say there was an inactive circle very close to what I had requested, and he had restarted the FLEB (Florida Estero Bay) circle with me as compiler.
I was excited to be the compiler of the FLEB circle, which had not been active since 1993. It also meant recruiting volunteers during the height of the holiday season, but soon enough the count day was set for December 27 and 22 volunteers were assigned to four groups. Thank goodness for social media and dedicated birders.
Jeffrey Roth, Gail Campbell and Elaine Swank covered from Connecticut St. to the Wyndham. Gloria Abramoff (co-compiler), Cheyenne Curran, Gayle Crabtree-Pergoli, Wendy Kindig and I covered the Little Estero Critical Wildlife Area down to Island’s End. Later Gloria and I covered Bay Beach, Church of the Ascension, New Pass and Estero Bay. Audrey Albrecht, Martha Campbell, Molly Hutchins, Bill and Patty Jones, France Paulsen, and Cathy and Don Valas covered Lovers Key State Park and Barefoot Beach. Charlie Ewell, Meg Rousher, Barbara Centola, and Bill and Randa Veach covered Wiggins Pass, Hidden Cypress Preserve, Edison Farms and Coconut Point wetlands. Jayne Johnston and Wils Murphy provided additional counts. Many thanks to all who gave their time to do the count!
In all, 85 species and 3,115 individual birds were counted. At first glance, the counts may appear to reflect healthy populations of the species counted. However, compared with the historical data for the FLEB counts done in the early 1990’s, the population counts show a decline in numbers and is similar to recent population reports from long-term studies.
Since our coastal habitats are especially important for shorebirds, a comparison of the counts of several species can illustrate this point.
While a single Audubon CBC circle with only a small amount of data is not conclusive on its own, I believe it is a snapshot of what is being reported by avifauna researchers who have extensively studied many years of bird population data.
From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website – www.allaboutbirds.org
“According to research published online in September by the Journal Science, wild bird populations in the continental U.S. and Canada have declined by almost 30% since 1970.
We were astounded by this net loss across all birds on our continent, the loss of billions of birds,” said Cornell Lab of Ornithology conservation scientist Ken Rosenberg, who led an international team of scientists from seven institutions in the analysis of population trends for 529 bird species.
The study quantifies for the first time the total decline in bird populations in the continental U.S. and Canada, a loss of 2.9 billion breeding adult birds—with devastating losses among birds in every biome. Rosenberg, who leads joint research initiatives by the Cornell Lab and American Bird Conservancy, says these study results transcend the world of birds.
“These bird losses are a strong signal that our human-altered landscapes are losing their ability to support birdlife,” he said. “And that is an indicator of a coming collapse of the overall environment.”
From the Audubon website – https://www.audubon.org/conservation/coastal-strategy
“Marine and coastal birds are in steep decline due to climate change, development, overfishing, and pollution and the numbers are stark. Globally, seabird populations have decreased by 70 percent since 1950 and in North American alone, shorebird populations have decreased by 70 percent since 1973.”
Fort Myers Beach Birds
*While the bird populations are largely in decline, the good news for Fort Myers Beach residents/visitors is that the Little Estero Critical Wildlife Area and adjacent beach is providing suitable habitat for nesting, resting and feeding for a diversity of shorebird species. In addition, snowy plover numbers have locally increased due to a cooperative by the property owners at the South end of FMB and FWC. This does show that conservation efforts do work.
It is up to all of us to recognize the ecological pressures birds are facing and to do our very best to maintain intact ecosystems and reduce human disturbances. Just remember, these beautiful birds call our barrier island home too!
To learn more about the Christmas Bird Count and check out the historical and current data, trends go to bit.ly/fmbCBC
By Penny Jarrett