The Sarasota Audubon Society conducted its 71st annual Christmas Bird Count on Jan. 1, 2022. Volunteers tallied 165 species and about 30,000 birds. It’s the second-highest recorded number of species in the 71 years that the Sarasota Audubon has been holding the count, although the total number of birds has dropped, says Stu Wilson, who organizes and compiles the Sarasota data.
The Sarasota count was part of the annual Christmas Bird Count the National Audubon Society has been conducting since 1900. The early winter census is held throughout the U.S., Canada and in 20 other countries in the western hemisphere from December 14 to January 5. Local chapters (there are 80 in Florida) pick a day, assemble volunteers and fan out in a 15-mile diameter circle.
In Sarasota, 19 teams and about 135 volunteers, from beginner to experienced birders, spent the day looking and listening for birds. Wilson says the 165 species, including about 12 species of rare birds, counted this year is a “robust number.” Observers do this the same way every time and try to track trends rather than absolute numbers. Since Sarasota has a lot of talented birders, including younger members, they know the habitats and where to look, which helps to tally the diversity in species.
But there was almost a 15 percent decline in total number of birds from the previous year’s 35,000 bird tally.
“Global warming is having an impact,” says Wilson. It’s warmer in the north and fewer birds need to go as far south or they postpone their trips.
“Many species are hardwired to migrate when days start to shorten,” he says. Often around Oct. 15, they begin to move south. But some species, like ducks, can be reluctant migrators. They need to carry more weight to make the trip, so they continue to put on the pounds (or ounces) up north until the first freeze. The Cedar Waxwing also waits until the berries freeze, or fruit bushes stop bearing fruit before they head south. “We haven’t seen them yet,” says Wilson.
Population growth and construction is also having an impact on bird counts in Sarasota. “Construction equipment is tearing up habitat used by birds,” he says. “A number of species we used to get, like the Northern Bobwhite and Eastern Towhee, we’re not getting. Birds are literally the canary in the coal mine. We can show where they’re impacted by global warming and loss of habitat.”
Thanks to all the Audubon members and volunteers who shared their photos from this year's Sarasota Christmas Bird Count.