There were no French hens, geese a-laying, swans a-swimming or partridges in pear trees, but local Audubon volunteers found plenty of birds in the 118th Christmas bird count on New Year’s Eve.
Six birders found more than 800 birds of 51 species in the count, including shorebird species familiar to beachgoers like terns, sanderlings, red knots, plovers, gulls and brown pelicans, which topped the list of most commonly seen birds at 94 individuals.
Fish crows took second place, with 69 observed. Mourning doves placed third, with 64 counted, while turkey vultures were nudged into fourth place at 63.
The highlight was the discovery of two bald eagles, said John van Zandt, of Audubon’s Fort DeSoto Circle, which includes Anna Maria Island.
No one spotted a razorbill, he said – the seabird, which resembles a penguin, was added to the list when several unexpectedly migrated here in 2013 from the North Atlantic, possibly due to storms.
Other common birds observed were ducks, sparrows, warblers, starlings, crows, jays, kestrels, woodpeckers, doves and pigeons.
The annual count began in 1900 when Dr. Frank Chapman, founder of Bird-Lore, which evolved into Audubon magazine, suggested an alternative to holiday hunts, proposing that people count birds instead of killing them.
Since then, the National Audubon Society has provided data on trends in bird populations in the U.S., Canada, Central and South America, Bermuda, the West Indies and the Pacific Islands.
Like canaries in coal mines, birds are indicators of overall environmental health, according to Audubon, which has declared 2018 the Year of the Bird, marking the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act with National Geographic, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and BirdLife International.
Visit www.BirdYourWorld.org to learn simple ways to help birds this year.