Volunteers on St. Croix will be participating in the Audubon Society’s Annual Christmas Bird Count. This year’s count will be the 119th year the international organization has hosted the count all over the world. People on St. Croix began participating in this event 46 years ago in 1972. Each year, the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) here on the island needs experienced and amateur bird watchers to participate in the one-day census of the Virgin Islands’ wintering bird population.
According to Bill Boyton, CBC’s coordinator, “The count is a major contribution to what we call community science. It’s an opportunity for everyday people to collect important census data about our birds. The growth or decline of overall bird populations often indicates changes in the local environment that otherwise would be overlooked.”
Identification of changes in numbers and in the types of species on the island over the years provides Audubon researchers, conservation biologists, wildlife agencies and other interested individuals with important data to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across the territory and in other locations around the world. It also can identify environmental issues with implications for the people who live here as well.
The CBC can identify environmental dangers that are present on the island. “With the wet conditions that we have had lately and the blessing of no major storms this season, we are looking for a count with record numbers this year,” Boyton said. “After last year’s two major hurricanes decimated the islands, our CBC team saw a significant drop in our overall bird population on St. Croix. We conducted the tally on the same December Sunday last year and counted only 1,945 birds and that included only 65 different species.”
For comparison purpose, the counts for the previous two years were 2,856 birds for 2016 and 3,615 birds for 2015.
“Not only did the hurricanes reduce the overall population of birds, but 10 species of bird weren’t even sited last year. Most of the smaller birds like warblers, swallows and plovers showed the sharpest drop in sightings along with larger winter waterfowl such as stilts, sandpipers and ducks. The last 12 months have shifted back to the tropical Caribbean weather we have all come to enjoy, and the bird population will have used this time to rebuild,” said.
This year’s Christmas Bird Count will tell the story about the recovery of the territory’s island birds.
Anyone who would like to participate as a Christmas Bird Count volunteer should email Bill Boyton at [email protected] or call him at 690-3005. Volunteers will be assigned targeted ponds, ocean shorelines or land areas around the island and be given a tally sheet and bird-identification card. Those who have a good pair of binoculars will find them helpful with identifying different bird species. On the day of the event, they are asked to do a slow walk through the areas assigned and tally the number of birds of each species that are sighted.
It runs from sunrise to sunset. The volunteer assignment can take a couple of hours or all day depending on the willingness of the volunteer. People may choose an area close to their home or another area where they feel comfortable watching and counting the birds. Novices who want to help can join the mentoring program being launched again this year, which allows them to work with more experienced bird counters. Bring friends and make some new ones for this very worthwhile event. Further instructions will be given to all volunteers as the count day draws near.
Detailed information about this year’s Christmas Bird Count and last year’s results are available online at http://www.audubon.org/conservation/science/christmas-bird-count, which also maintains a historical record of all past bird tallies.