The 118th Christmas Bird Count in Florida

The 79 CBCs held during the 118th season set the record for the most CBCs in one season in Florida, a trend that has been the norm for the past 10+ years. New counts were established at Green Swamp (in Polk, Lake, Pasco, and Sumter counties) and Okaloacoochee Slough–Spirit of the Wild (in Collier and Hendry counties). Florida’s CBCs accounted for 9644 accepted observations of 338 taxonomic forms and 1,479,568 individuals. The taxonomic forms comprised 271 native species or natural vagrants, the reintroduced Whooping Crane, all 14 extant “countable” exotics, 31 “non-countable” exotics, one hybrid (Mallard × Mottled Duck), one color morph (“Great White Heron”), one intergrade (“Wurdemann’s Heron”), and 18 species-groups. Another species, Black-legged Kittiwake, was recorded solely during count-week.

Accepted species totals ranged from 29 (at Dry Tortugas N.P.) to 171 (Alafia Banks). Six other CBCs, including one inland (*) exceeded 149 “countable” species: North Pinellas (160), *Gainesville (157), Sarasota (157), West Pasco (154), St. Marks (152), and Jacksonville (150). Three CBCs, including one inland (*), tallied more than 50,000 individuals: Cocoa (141,937, with 90,000 Lesser Scaup and 30,000 Laughing Gulls), Ponce Inlet (71,508, with 50,000 Laughing Gulls), and *Gainesville (58,105, with 10,000 Red-winged Blackbirds).

This summary excludes rarities that were not supported by photographs or accepted documentation forms. Bold-faced numbers denote high counts since the 102nd CBC season. Three species (Great Blue Heron, Belted Kingfisher, and Palm Warbler) were tallied on all 79 counts. Seven species exceeded 50,000 individuals statewide: Lesser Scaup (148,351), Laughing Gull (129,223), Tree Swallow (82,349), American Coot (65,368), White Ibis (64,573), American Robin (57,558), and Fish Crow (52,070). In contrast, 15 native species or natural vagrants were each represented by a single individual: Brant (at Stuart), Red-throated Loon (St. Marks), Cory’s Shearwater and Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Dade County), Neotropic Cormorant (West Palm Beach), Black Rail (Aripeka–Bayport), Smooth-billed Ani, Lesser Nighthawk, and Chuck-will’s-widow (all at Kendall Area), Short-eared Owl, Brown-crested Flycatcher, and Cave Swallow (all at Long Pine Key), Buff-bellied Hummingbird (Pensacola), Veery (Zellwood-Mount Dora), and Yellow-headed Blackbird (Jacksonville).

The 8816 Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks on 43 counts indicate continuing population growth. Fulvous Whistling-Ducks totaled 316 individuals on four counts, with 225 at Zellwood-Mount Dora and 75 at STA5–Clewiston. Canada Geese, mostly or entirely composed of resident exotics, numbered 1292 on 16 counts, with 500 at Jacksonville and 450 at Tallahassee. Lakeland again supplied four species of swans—all of them exotics! Egyptian Geese numbered 484 individuals on nine counts, with 133 at Fort Lauderdale and 110 at Kendall Area; individuals in Brevard County (three at Cocoa and count-week at South Brevard County) may represent an expansion of the established range. Muscovy Ducks totaled 4593 individuals on 53 counts, with 615 at Kendall Area, 375 at Naples, and 320 at Fort Lauderdale, but the 275 ducks far north at Lake City is eye-opening. Two White-cheeked Pintail at Fort Lauderdale were known releases, while one at Dade County may have been a vagrant. Two female-plumaged Long-tailed Ducks were documented at Cedar Key. Black Scoters numbered 1011 individuals statewide, with 800 at Daytona Beach and 170 at St. Augustine.

Over the past few years, I have stressed the need to carefully examine Mallards and Mottled Ducks to determine how many of these may be hybrids (or, more accurately, back-crosses—but let’s not confuse the issue even further …), based on tentative identification criteria that Tony Leukering and I developed in 2014. Recent CBC data make it is abundantly clear that I have created much confusion by not mentioning use of the “Mallard/Mottled Duck” listing for ducks that cannot be identified to species or hybrid. Hoping to remedy this issue, I am asking all CBC compilers and participants in Florida to use the Mallard/Mottled Duck listing for all “Muddled Ducks” that cannot be identified more specifically. Identifying “Muddled Ducks” more specifically usually requires detailed photographs or careful observations through spotting scopes—and even then, many individuals are best left unidentified given the great variation in plumages of feral Mallards. Several Florida CBCs in the southern peninsula that contain urban/suburban habitats continue to report large numbers of Mottled Ducks with few or no Mallard × Mottled Duck hybrids or and unknowns (Mallard/Mottled Duck)—these data are questionable at best. The identification of Mallards, Mottled Ducks, and their hybrids arguably represents the most widespread and under-appreciated pitfall facing birders in Florida. The issue is so severe that attempting to separate the parent species from hybrids is impossible is many cases—eBird data from the same region are atrociously unreliable. I therefore recommend that the “Mallard/Mottled Duck” listing be used extensively on peninsular CBCs. Following on this recommendation and beginning with this summary, I will combine all Mallards, Mottled Ducks, Mallard × Mottled Duck hybrids, and unknowns into a single “Muddled Duck” total, which this year numbered 8093 individuals.

A declining species of conservation concern (and also, perhaps contradictorily, a popular gamebird), Northern Bobwhites totaled only 189 individuals on 26 CBCs, with 27 at Avon Park A. F. Range and 21 at Tallahassee. Avon Park A.F. Range also led the state in Wild Turkeys, with 129 out of 935 overall. Florida’s two resident exotic fowl, Indian Peafowl and Red Junglefowl, numbered 200 and 63 individuals, respectively. St. Marks provided the state’s only Red-throated Loon. The five triple-digit counts among the state’s 1405 Common Loons were 525 at Cedar Key, 138 at Choctawhatchee Bay, 135 at Bay County, 133 at Port St. Joe, and 101 at Pensacola. One Cory’s Shearwater at Dade County furnished Florida only tubenose, while the 240 American Flamingos on the same CBC represent the feral flock at Hialeah Race Track. Seabird totals at Dry Tortugas N.P. were 170 Magnificent Frigatebirds, 36 Masked Boobies, and 26 Brown Boobies. Eight other Brown Boobies at North Pinellas represented a flock (of as many as 22!) that was discovered in northern Tampa Bay in August 2016 and remained through November 2018; when not foraging, the birds roosted on a powerline tower and were very popular with birders. There were 12,547 American White Pelicans on 53 counts and 16,487 Brown Pelicans on 51, including 80 inland at Lakeland, where a few pairs have bred in recent years. Statewide Wood Storks and wading birds totaled 140,630 individuals, among these 5031 Wood Storks, 359 “Great White Herons,” 164 Reddish Egrets, 64,573 White Ibises, 8653 Glossy Ibises, and 1180 Roseate Spoonbills.

There were 27,299 Black Vultures on 75 counts and 43,893 Turkey Vultures on 78. Diurnal raptor totals included 4361 Ospreys on 76 counts, 1706 Bald Eagles on 70, and 3887 Red-shouldered Hawks on 76. Two White-tailed Kites were at STA5–Clewiston, with single others at Kendall Area and Long Pine Key. Of the state’s 68 Snail Kites, 23 at STA5–Clewiston and 22 at Kissimmee Valley represented the only double-digit totals. Sharp-shinned Hawks continue their long-term decline, with 100 found on 44 counts. On the other hand, Cooper’s Hawks are increasing, with 280 individuals on 64 CBCs. Short-tailed Hawks numbered 87 on 27 counts, with 11 each at Fakahatchee and Kendall Area, seven each at Coot Bay–Everglades N.P. and Dade County, and six each at Key West and Long Pine Key. The northernmost reports were light morphs at Bay Lake, Christmas, and Econlockhatchee, and two dark morphs at East Pasco.

Aripeka–Bayport provided the only Black Rail. Purple Gallinules statewide totaled 290 individuals on 28 counts, with 36 at Kissimmee Valley and 35 at Emeralda–Sunnyhill. Among 89 Gray-headed Swamphens on six counts were 45 at STA5–Clewiston, 20 at West Palm Beach, and 13 at Boca Raton; one at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary was somewhat extralimital. Limpkins continue their increase, totaling 1530 on 44 counts, with 235 at Gainesville, 170 at Sarasota, and 100 at Myakka River S.P. Highest totals among the state’s 14,690 Sandhill Cranes on 56 counts were 6000 at Gainesville, 1000 at Melrose, and 900 at Kissimmee Valley. Two Whooping Cranes at Lake Wales were the only report. Cedar Key accounted for 900—74%!—of the state’s 1211 American Oystercatchers. Overall counts of small plovers were 76 Snowies on eight counts, 156 Wilson’s on 13, 2469 Semipalmateds on 34, and 93 Pipings on 10. Whimbrels were found on four counts: an amazing 50 at Cedar Key, 25 at Coot Bay–Everglades N.P., six at West Pasco, and one at Matanzas. Two Long-billed Curlews were at Alafia Banks, with a third at Coot Bay–Everglades N.P. The highest counts among the state’s 1037 Red Knots on 22 counts were 525 at Fort De Soto, 98 at Sanibel–Captiva, and 83 at Daytona Beach.

A count-week Black-legged Kittiwake was well-described at West Palm Beach. Lesser Black-backed Gulls totaled 599 individuals on 26 counts, with 250 at Cocoa, 67 at Kendall Area, and 49 at Ponce Inlet. Six Gull-billed Terns were photographed inland at Christmas. Single Common Terns were accepted at Panacea, Port St. Joe, and Sarasota, but were rejected from five other counts; this species has replaced Eastern Kingbird as the most problematic species on Florida CBCs—compilers are again reminded that Common Terns must be documented statewide. Black Skimmers numbered 10,893 individuals on 38 counts, with 2100 at Jacksonville and 1200 at Coot Bay–Everglades N.P.

Rock Pigeons numbered 9907 individuals on 56 counts, representing a decline of about 50% from numbers 15 years ago. Eurasian Collared-Doves continues to decline, with just 3788 statewide; totals exceeded 10,000 individuals as recently as 10 years ago. Kendall Area furnished the state’s only Smooth-billed Ani and Lesser Nighthawk, while the sole Short-eared Owl enlivened Long Pine Key. As always, Fort Myers provided most of Florida’s Burrowing Owls, 61 of 95. For the third consecutive season, a small flock of Vaux’s Swifts wintered at Gainesville, with four individuals tallied on the CBC. Florida’s 315 hummingbirds comprised 275 Ruby-throated, four Rufous, two Black-chinned (both at Tallahassee), one Buff-bellied (at Pensacola), and 33 not identified specifically. Picoides woodpeckers numbered 2036 Downies on 74 counts, 15 Hairies on 12, and 74 Red-cockadeds on 11. Northern Flickers seem to be decreasing; there were 616 individuals on 59 counts this season. Statewide caracara and falcon totals were 106 Crested Caracaras on 17 counts, 1974 American Kestrels on 78, 81 Merlins on 42, and 61 Peregrine Falcons on 29. Twenty-two CBCs reported at least one of the 14 psittacid species found this season; among these were 762 Monk Parakeets on 17 counts and 730 Nanday Parakeets on 14. Kendall Area accounted for 600 of the state’s 671 Mitred Parakeets, 175 of 179 Red-masked Parakeets, and 25 of 28 Crimson-fronted Parakeets.

Ten species of flycatchers were accepted this season; the rarest being a Brown-crested Flycatcher at Long Pine Key and two Tropical Kingbirds at STA5–Clewiston. Single Ash-throated Flycatchers were documented at Gainesville and Zellwood–Mount Dora. Great Crested Flycatchers totaled 259 individuals on 32 counts, with 38 at Fakahatchee. Of Florida’s 18 Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, four graced Key Largo–Plantation Key, with trios at Alafia Banks and STA5–Clewiston. The highest counts of the state’s 1610 Loggerhead Shrikes were from along the southern Gulf coast, with 172 at Peace River, 119 at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, and 100 at Fort Myers. Kendall Area accounted for a majority of the state’s 29 Yellow-throated Vireos, with an amazing 18; other counts with multiples were five at Dade County, three at Fort Lauderdale, and two at Key Largo–Plantation Key. Florida Scrub-Jays numbered 285 individuals on 19 counts. Six Horned Larks were found at Jackson County, where the species seems to now be a permanent, breeding resident. Two Northern Rough-winged Swallows were adequately documented at Panacea.

Twelve White-breasted Nuthatches were at Tallahassee. Brown-headed Nuthatches totaled 533 individuals on 38 counts. No Red-breasted Nuthatches were reported this season. One Brown Creeper was found at Jackson County. Kendall Area tallied 32 Red-whiskered Bulbuls. Eastern Bluebirds totaled 3173 individuals on 51 counts, with 250 at Gainesville, 196 at Choctawhatchee Bay, 187 at Pensacola, and 175 at Crystal River. One Veery—a species never verifiably documented in Florida during winter—was adequately described at Zellwood–Mount Dora. Three Sprague’s Pipits were found at Apalachicola Bay–St. Vincent N.W.R. The highest totals for the state’s 2202 Cedar Waxwings on 36 counts were all north, with 425 at Jackson County, 261 at Gainesville, and 211 at Tallahassee.

This season, 21 species of wood-warblers plus Yellow-breasted Chat—recently moved out of the wood-warbler family, so it will no longer be mentioned here—were accepted, with the rarest being a Louisiana Waterthrush at Long Pine Key. High counts of the state’s 60 Black-throated Green Warblers were 19 at Kendall Area, eight at Long Pine Key, six each at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and Fakahatchee, and five at Key West. Kendall Area is proving to be a hotspot for wintering wood-warblers, this season producing three Nashvilles, 69 American Redstarts, 121 Northern Parulas, 27 Black-throated Blues, and three Wilson’s. Single Yellow-breasted Chats were found at Boca Raton, Gainesville, Kendall Area, and Long Pine Key.

Single LeConte’s Sparrows were found at Aripeka–Bayport, Alafia Banks, Panacea, and Zellwood–Mount Dora. Lark Sparrows enlivened Fort De Soto and Sarasota, and five CBCs reported one Clay-colored Sparrow each. Statewide “Sharp-tailed” Sparrows numbers were again down sharply, with only 34 Nelson’s on 11 counts and only 10 Saltmarsh on five, with seven other sparrows not identified to species. More encouraging were the 27 Seaside Sparrows found on nine counts, with 10 on seven counts along the Gulf coast and 18 on two counts along the Atlantic coast. Triple-digit Swamp Sparrow counts were tallied at Zellwood–Mount Dora (425), Gainesville (250), Christmas (147), and West Pasco (109). Among the state’s 29 Summer Tanagers on 17 CBCs were five each at Dade County and Kendall Area, and three each at St. Petersburg and Wekiva River. Remarkably, Western Tanagers were photographed at Bay County, Gainesville, and Pensacola.

An immature Rose-breasted Grosbeak was photographed at Dade County. There were 97 Indigo Buntings on 19 CBCs, and 539 Painted Buntings on 48; high counts of the latter were 57 at Coot Bay–Everglades N.P., 47 at Kendall Area, 45 at West Palm Beach, 33 at Stuart, and 32 at Fort Pierce. Six Blue Grosbeaks were found: four at West Palm Beach and singles at Econlockhatchee and Zellwood–Mount Dora. One Dickcissel was photographed at Dade County. An adult male Yellow-headed Blackbird graced Jacksonville. Six Rusty Blackbirds were at Aripeka–Bayport, with three others at Jacksonville. A female Brewer’s Blackbird returned to Aripeka–Bayport for at least her sixth winter; 55 others were at Pensacola. Bronzed Cowbirds were found on three counts: 87 at Kendall Area, seven at Dade County, and three at STA5–Clewiston. Fifteen Spot-breasted Orioles were found on four counts, among these seven at Dade County and five at West Palm Beach. Of the state’s 145 Baltimore Orioles, 49 were at Gainesville, and 20 at Lakeland. House Finches numbered 741 on 48 CBCs. Only two Pine Siskins were reported, singles at Jacksonville and Wekiva River. House Sparrows totaled 1935 individuals on 56 counts. Four Orange-cheeked Waxbills, apparently part of a small breeding population, were at Kendall Area. Scaly-breasted Munias were found at Pensacola (41) and Kendall Area (32).

For the tenth year, Bruce Anderson reviewed most of the ~125 documentation forms received from (only) 39 counts—a majority of Florida’s compilers did not submit details for their CBCs, a disturbing and worrisome metric. Bruce and I deleted 37 reports from 23 counts. Most egregious was the Crystal River CBC, which had four rare species deleted. Other counts with multiple deletions (two each) were Bradenton, Jonathan Dickinson, Merritt Island N.W.R., Ponce Inlet, and Tallahassee. The deleted species were Greater White-fronted Goose, Cinnamon Teal (five!), Common Eider, Eared Grebe, Great Frigatebird (!; an obvious compiler error), Broad-winged Hawk (three counts), Western Swamphen (another obvious compiler error; every swamphen in Florida is the Gray-headed form) Solitary Sandpiper (six), Wilson’s Phalarope, Common Tern (five counts), African Collared-Dove, Common Nighthawk, Broad-billed Hummingbird, Eastern Kingbird (two counts), Vermilion Flycatcher, Purple Martin (two counts), Barn Swallow (three counts), Northern Rough-winged Swallow (two counts), Black-throated Blue Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Hooded Warbler, LeConte’s Sparrow (three), Blue Grosbeak (two counts), and Western Tanager. Another 76 reports were appended with the “Details Desired’ or “Questionable Number” editorial codes.