When was the last time you saw a Red-headed Woodpecker?

The President’s Hoot
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
January 2012

Audubon volunteers completed another Christmas Bird Count (CBC)! On Jan 2nd, 48 folks participated in the South Brevard Christmas Bird Count, which also includes Sebastian, Fellsmere, and Indian River Estates out to the Ocean shore.  This year’s leader was Dee Fairbanks, who took over from Roy Book, both of whom did an outstanding job of organizing this and past years’ counts.  The participants were divided up into twelve teams, each with a leader. The teams together identified 154 bird species, 151 of which were American Birding Association countable.  Teams search a specific area within a 15 -mile circular radius in which to conduct their bird counts by riding in cars, riding swamp buggies, boats, and/or walking from predawn to sunset.  I was pleased to hear Team 7 found the Red-headed woodpecker off Roseland Rd near Ronald McDonald Campground.  Other notable species were: Indigo Bunting, Northern Flicker, American Avocet, and Prothonotary Warbler. It was a fun day followed by dining at Marsh Landing in Fellsmere, where the counts from all 12 teams were totaled.

Red-headed Woodpecker at Padgett Ranch. Photo: Jim Shea

Celebrating its 112th year, Frank Chapman, an officer in the young Audubon Society started the first CBC in New York in 1900 for a bird count instead of the traditional Christmas hunt for dinner with guns.  Previously, folks, mostly women had come together in communities to stop the fashion industry from slaughtering birds for hat feathers.  Because of these people and Chapman’s influence with President Roosevelt, Pelican Island became the first national wildlife refuge in 1903.  Today over 60,000 volunteers participate in one of the largest, longest-running wildlife census in the world from the Arctic Circle to New Orleans to South America. 

Two years ago, CBC data confirmed what observers had suspected that 58 percent of bird species are moving their winter ranges farther north at about one mile every year than just 40 years ago, which follows the charted temperature increases we are experiencing from global warming or climate change.  Using sophisticated mapping technology, scientists can predict what habitats and species are at greatest risk from climate change impacts.  Perhaps with this knowledge we can protect remaining habitats or create alternative habitats when this is the only option.  One of the greatest gifts we can give our children and grandchildren is a healthily, sustainable future.

While the South Brevard CBC includes Sebastian and Fellsmere, we would like to reactivate or as Maggy Bowman once stated in the Peligram, “resuscitate” the Vero Beach CBC, which started in 1962, abandoned in 1973 and resurrected in 1996 for 3 years only and then was discontinued.  The Vero Beach area includes some great birding areas in our County.  You do not have to be a great birder to participate.  In fact, going on one of the teams is the best way to learn birding from experts, where you learn the places and habitats where to expect to find the birds, which aids in identifying them.   

Another PIAS project this year is getting young adults and kids interested in observing birds and being in nature.  Taking children and young adults out on CBC’s and to our great birding areas can do this.  We have over eleven special places in Indian River County in addition to paying attention to birds in our backyards.  Reportedly, the average kid now spends only 15 minutes a day outside, and this is usually only the time spent getting on and off the school bus.  Instead kids now spend 7-8 hours a day on computers, games, and TV.  Their parents have not experienced nature either, and so we have two generations of Nature-Deficit Disordered Children.  Many children and adults are scared of bugs, snakes, and wildlife, get lower grades and are prone to obesity and depression.  Exposure to nature improves wound healing, and reduces blood pressure, tension, depression, and attention deficit hyper-activity disorder.

If you would like to participate in working with young birders and help reactivate the Vero Beach CBC, please give our office a call 772-567-3520 and let Bob Montanaro or me know of your interest.

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