BY: Bob Duncan
‘Old time’ experienced birders who have participated in the Pensacola Christmas Bird Counts know that over the years there have been significant changes in area birdlife. I recently came across an old checklist of the 20 Dec 1980 CBC and decided to compare it with the 40 years later 19 Dec 2020 CBC results. Both counts were similar with 93 party hours for 1980 and 91.5 for 2020, 35 participants for 1980, and 29 for 2020. Weather was similar both days with 1980 partly cloudy, moderate wind and 38-51 degrees, and 2020 with partly cloudy, moderate wind and 40-60 degrees. Total species found in 1980: 114 and in 2020: 108. I have chosen selected species that in my opinion have had significant changes and added comments on what I think might be the cause. “The results of this year’s (2021-2022) CBC in Pensacola and Gulf Shores support the analysis.”
CANADA GOOSE – 1980 (0); 2020 (53). The proliferation of artificial ponds at golf courses and subdivisions in recent years has allowed feral populations to explode. Only wild birds were reported in Weston’s time (A Survey of the Birdlife of Western Florida, Bulletin number 5. Tall Timbers Research Station, 1965). “Regular and sometimes common in westward flight over the coastal area in fall.” Only one winter record.
MUSCOVY DUCK – 1980 (0); 2020 (49). Muscovies were not counted in 1980.
BOBWHITE – 1980 (14); 2020 (0). Common in Weston’s time when there were still pastures, fields, and rural hedgerows within the CBC circle but diminishing by 1980 and now absent.
HORNED GREBE – 1980 (49); 2020 (12). Significant declines in the area. Cause unknown but could be related to short stopping to our north by the creation of lakes and reservoirs.
EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE – 1980 ( 0); 2020 (118). This Eurasian species was released in the Bahamas in the late 1970s. It reached S. Florida and its numbers rapidly exploded and dispersed north and west. It reached Okaloosa Co. in Dec 1987 rapidly expanding its population in our area. However, in recent years I have noticed a significant decline in my neighborhood which I attribute to Cooper’s Hawks which considers it a finer delicacy than other prey.
WHITE-WINGED DOVE – 1980 (0); 2020 (12). Very rare in Weston’s time with a maximum in one season of 6 in winter 1963. Rapidly increased in number in the late 1990s and now breeds.
AMERICAN COOT – 1980 (338); 2020 (14). The diminishing number of Coots in recent years is inexplicable, in spite of additional habitat created by artificial impoundments and ponds. Short stopping by the creation of impoundments and reservoirs to our north may be the cause.
PACIFIC LOON – 1980 (0); 2020 (1). Unrecorded in Weston’s time. First recorded in 1983, now recorded in 13 of the past 14 years. Problems in identification possibly due to inadequate field guides may have been the cause of its previously unrecorded status.
BROWN PELICAN – 1980 (0); 2020 (300). Formerly common in Weston’s time, he noted it was rare or absent by 1957. The cause was unknown but later found to be DDT poisoning. By 1980 it had not recovered and was worthy of “hotline” phone calls among local birders when found. The 300 in 2020 speaks for itself.
SNOWY EGRET – 1980 (3); 2020 (24). Weston had only one winter record but by 1980 they were uncommon and are now uncommon to common all year. They are inexplicably generally absent on the Gulf Shores CBC less than 50 miles away.
OSPREY – 1980 (0); 2020 (45). Weston commented in 1965 “some unknown destructive influence has caused a great diminution in numbers and this species is positively rare.” It had been common. Little did he know what the cause was but as a result of the banning of DDT it has bounced back.
BALD EAGLE – 1980 (0); 2020 (10). For the reasons explained above, it has made a great comeback. They had disappeared by 1960, and had not bounced back by 1980.
COOPER’S HAWK – 1980 (0); 2020 (11). Weston found it uncommon to rare and not known to breed. The first known breeding record occurred in Gulf Breeze in 1996. Since then they have been common and adapting well to suburban neighborhoods where feeding stations provide a smorgasbord of food. Their favorite is apparently Eurasian Collared-Doves which had become abundant in my Gulf Breeze neighborhood and are now generally absent.
NORTHERN FLICKER – 1980 (76); 2020 (3). A precipitous decline locally also reflects a national trend. One possible cause of the decline includes competition with Starlings for nest sites. A ground feeder, possible poisoning as a result of fire ant eradication programs.
PEREGRINE FALCON – 1980 (0); 2020 (2). Another victim of DDT, it was generally absent in the 1970s but has made a dramatic comeback locally and nationally.
FISH CROW – 1980 (568); 2020 (10) They have for the most part abandoned foraging along the coast, opting for the smorgasbord available at local landfills where they are found by the hundreds.
LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE – 1980 (16); 2020 (8). Declining both locally and nationally. A common breeding resident in Weston’s time. Causes of decline due to pesticides and loss of habitat.
HOUSE SPARROW – 1980 (316); 2020 (91). Declines were noted both locally and nationally. Possibly due to competition for nesting sites with House Finches.
HOUSE FINCH – 1980 (0); 2020 (122). First reported in the state in 1983 at Gulf Breeze after spreading west from New York after releases in 1940.
PALM WARBLER – 1980 (3); 2020 (112). One of a few migratory species not showing declines nationally.
FIELD SPARROW – 1980 (37); 2020 (0). A general decline in grassland species nationwide. As of 1980, there were still open areas within the Pensacola CBC circle that had not been developed but are no longer extant.
SAVANNAH SPARROW – 1980 (37); 2020 (9). As noted above.
SONG SPARROW – 1980 (33); 2020 (18). Habitat loss in our area possible cause.
SWAMP SPARROW – 1980 (51); 2020(10). As noted above.
WHITE-THROATED SPARROW – 1980 (532); 2020 (9). A dramatic decrease. A spruce budworm outbreak in its breeding range prior to 1980 caused a population explosion that greatly diminished by 2020, coupled with habitat loss locally, causing the precipitous decline.
EASTERN TOWHEE – 1980 (114); 2020 (19). Habitat loss due to urbanization with attendant problems with cats and window collisions as probable causes.
EASTERN MEADOWLARK – 1980 (52); 2020 (0). As noted with the Field Sparrow.
COMMON GRACKLE – 1980 (3341); 2020 (0). I cannot explain its decline. Our visits to the agricultural areas in northern Escambia Co. found them common as of a few years ago but on recent visits there we have found few or none.
SCALY-BREASTED MUNIA – 1980 (0); 2020 (35). This exotic escapee made its first appearance in the Pensacola area in 1999 and has since spread into neighboring counties. It has been accepted as an established species by the Florida Ornithological Society Records Committee.