The 121st Christmas Bird Count in Caribbean-Bermuda

Although bird watching became increasingly popular during a global COVID-19 et var. pandemic particularly during lockdowns, there were a few casualties among some of the CBC circles. To borrow a phrase from the North American economic paradigm, when the United States sneezes, Caribbean tourism catches the flu. A casualty of the regional counts was Cuban circles that did not report counts from four areas. In the Bahamas, birders managed to soldier on and recover their birding spirit after a devastating hurricane Dorian, a 185 mph Cat 5 cyclone, which over-washed much of the Abacos the previous fall 2019.

It can’t be emphasized enough that participation is the key ingredient in Christmas Bird Counts. The larger the number of participants in a circle, a greater number of party-hours leads to more species (and individuals) reported. The following chart illustrates a near perfect correlation.

Relationship of participation vs party hours
Relationship of participation vs party hours Photo: Robert L. Norton

Puerto Rico marshalled four counts with a total of 159 participants (some who doubled-up on other counts during the two-week period) while the Bahamas (63 participants), the Dominican Republic (25) and US Virgin Islands (77) each had three counts during the period.  The British Virgin Islands (21) had two counts and Bermuda had one with 23 participants. Thus, the West Indies region had a grand total of 368 observers recording birds during 680.2 hours.

Some of the highlights from north to south included: Surf Scoter, European Golden-Plover and a Peregrine Falcon at Bermuda; a Swallow-tailed Kite, 7 Piping Plover, and 3 Bahama Woodstar at Grand Bahama; a Black Skimmer at West End, Grand Bahama and Greater Scaup at New Providence, Bahamas; 35 West Indian Whistling-Duck and a Bicknell’s Thrush at Arecibo, Puerto Rico; a Bank Swallow at Anegada, BVI; and a Piping Plover at Salinas Bani, Dominican Republic.

In the following chart, albeit a less defined trend, suggests that the greater number of party-hours expended results in more species. This probability reflects the model of diminishing returns, i.e. the more time one spends in a particular habitat, the longer it takes to find the next unrecorded species. A circle with diverse habitats, however, is likely to produce more species.

Relationship of Party Hours to Species
Relationship of Party Hours to Species Photo: Robert L. Norton

Bermuda and New Providence in the central Bahamas each reported 12 species of duck followed by five species each at Grand Bahama, Salinas Bani, and Arecibo. The Les Cayes, Haiti count found eight West Indian Whistling-Duck which was gratifying because of the heavy hunting pressure and habitat destruction.

Warbler numbers (including resident species and endemics) ranged from 20 species in the Bahamas, 19 at Puerto Rico, 16 at Bermuda, 14 in the Dom. Rep., to eight in the US Virgin Islands. A few smaller islands on the Eastern Puerto Rico Bank recorded at least one species, resident Yellow Warbler. The Bahamas and Puerto Rico are the places to be for chasing winter and resident warblers. I urge readers to peruse these counts to discover trends of their own for increases or declines of resident species particularly endemics.

Thanks to all who braved the pandemic and other obstacles to keep the CBC tradition alive and prospering in the Greater Antilles. The challenge for the future is expand counts to other islands to create a data base by which we can conserve species/habitats and educate to inform policy makers to preserve the outstanding natural treasures of the West Indies.

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