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More than 100 Sarasota Audubon Society volunteers will fan out across Sarasota County on Jan. 4 to count the area’s avifauna on behalf of the nonprofit organization’s 69th annual worldwide Christmas Bird Count. Sarasota is known for some of the best bird watching in Florida, but last year's count put the area on the map as a national birding destination, says count compiler Stu Wilson.

A Brief History

The first Christmas Bird Count took place on Christmas Day in 1900. (The count period always falls between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5.) Ornithologist Frank M. Chapman wanted to replace the annual tradition of hunting birds with counting them. Over a century later, it is considered the world's longest-running community-driven wildlife census.

Why It Matters

The count has been instrumental in demonstrating how climate change can affect avifauna life, tracking both long and short-term trends in bird populations, reducing the risk of invasive species and inspiring other environmental community projects.

On the Ground

The Sarasota count occurs in a circular area with a diameter of 15 miles and an epicenter at the intersection of Beneva and Bee Ridge roads. The area includes diverse habitats from coastal Siesta Key in the west to the flatlands surrounding the Sarasota National Cemetery in the east.

Flock Together

Twenty teams cover their parcels by foot, vehicle or even boat, tallying each bird they see or hear. The average volunteer spends four to eight hours counting.

For the Record

Last year's count set two new records: the highest volume of volunteers (142), and the number of birds identified (172, up from previous record 161). Species were spotted, such as the yellow-billed cuckoo and the ash-throated flycatcher, that had never appeared for a Sarasota Christmas Bird Count before.

Celery Fields Forever

The Celery Fields consist of 440 acres of restored wetlands, serving as the home for the Audubon Society's Nature Center as well as a habitat for more than 220 species of birds. Hailed as the No. 1 birding destination in Sarasota, it is becoming a mecca for ornithophiles around the nation.

Fowl Play

Recent reports from Science magazine reveal that North America has lost one in four birds (3 billion) over the last 50 years. Conservationists hope the troubling statistics will inspire citizens beyond birders to take action towards protecting our natural resources and to vote for politicians with strong environmental platforms.

That Darn Cat

It's a tough pill to swallow, but our feline companions are partially to blame for the dramatic decline of bird populations. The American Bird Conservatory revealed the instinctual predators are responsible for 2.4 billion annual bird deaths in the United States alone. Should Kitty be kept inside?

For more information contact Stu Wilson at stuwilson@comcast.net.

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