The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is an annual census of birds administered by the National Audubon Society. CBCs are intense, day-long surveys for experienced and intermediate-level birders. Each count takes place in an established 15-mile diameter circle and is organized by a count compiler. Volunteers identify and tally all birds they see and hear along their specified routes or within their designated zones. It’s not just a species tally—all birds are counted all day, giving an indication of the total number of birds in the circle that day.
We have built a great tradition over our long history (more than 50 years). The Gainesville CBC has become a model count, well-run and highly organized with great local participation (more than 130 birders last year). The count is named for the late John Hintermister, the compiler who brought us well along to our current high standards. Even though we are not on either the Atlantic or the Gulf coasts, we are often at or near the top of all of Florida counts in terms of diversity, with the current record of 175 species set in 2018. We also traditionally rank among the best counts in the country for most species with the highest numbers of individuals, and we have set all time national highs for several species (e.g., Limpkin, Snail Kite, Pileated Woodpecker, Baltimore Oriole, Black-and-white Warbler).
The results of Gainesville Christmas Bird Counts (CBC) and North American Migration Counts (NAMC) are given below in tabular form to indicate which are the regularly-occurring and most abundant species in winter (CBC), fall migration (NAMC Fall), and spring migration / nesting season (NAMC Spring).
Although individuals conducted Gainesville CBCs in 1925, 1928, and 1949, annual counts with proper teams did not begin until 1957. Here we show the results of five recent counts.
Heavy rains inundated Paynes Prairie, which is at the Count center, during the winters of 1997-98 and 1998-99. The waters subsided rapidly during 1999, creating a bonanza for fish-eating birds. All these circumstances are reflected in the CBC numbers for 1997-99, such as the record high count of Anhingas in 1998 when the Prairie was to all intents and purposes a lake, and the record highs for several waders in 1999, when it was reduced to a series of shallow pools. Conditions for the 1995-96 counts were “normal,” however, and give a more typical picture of winter bird populations.
The NAMC was designed to be a one-day, continent-wide survey, a “snapshot of the migration” to use the words of its founder Jim Stasz of North Beach, Maryland. Since it was continent-wide, the date was fixed on the second Saturday in May, when migration would be coming to an end in the Deep South and just beginning in the Far North. Here we show the results of eight counts. They give a fair picture of normal spring migration (1994, 1997), but there are a couple atypical ones as well (1992 was a fallout year, and thus much better than normal).
Since all of our locally-breeding birds are actively nesting by mid-May, this count doubles as a good survey of summer bird populations.
The NAMC instituted a fall count once the spring count was solidly established. It takes place every third Saturday in September, and thus gives a much better picture of fall migration than the spring count gives of spring migration. Five years are shown here. Check out our warbler tallies, which consistently outrank those of every other participating county in Florida by a magnitude of three or four!