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Even In A Pandemic, You Can Count On — Or Just Count — Birds

brian rapoza counts birds during the annual Miami Christmas Bird Count december nineteenth
Federico Acevedo
Tropical Audubon Society
Brian Rapoza compiles the data for two Christmas bird counts in South Florida, including the Miami count.

The Audubon Christmas Bird Count is a tradition that goes back 120 years. Those counts went ahead in South Florida this year, despite the pandemic. But there were some changes.

Usually, when Brian Rapoza organizes Christmas bird counts, he invites the public to join them. But this year, he couldn't do that. So for the Miami count, they had about half the number of people to cover the same area — a circle 15 miles in diameter.

"We had to break up the regular sections into smaller sections and have those smaller sections covered by only one or two people," Rapoza said.

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Rapoza is the field trip coordinator for the Tropical Audubon Society and compiles the data for two of the South Florida Christmas bird counts. He said the National Audubon Society told count organizers that if they couldn't comply with local COVID regulations, they could cancel this year's count.

For those that canceled, there will be a gap in the data. But Rapoza says the Miami count worked well.

"Even though we had a smaller number of people counting the birds, we were still able to cover the same amount of area and count about the same number of birds," he said.

Rapoza also recruited new contributors who live within the boundaries of the count area — and could take part without leaving their homes.

"Birds like painted buntings and ruby-throated hummingbirds that come to backyard feeders — we would get a much more reliable census of those species if we had many more backyard birders contributing their data," he said.

Rapoza said he hopes to continue recruiting backyard birders even when the pandemic is over and people can get together safely.

This year's Miami count, held Dec. 19, tallied more than 14,000 birds of 122 species. Christmas bird count data is used by scientists to track the size and movement of bird populations.

Nancy Klingener was WLRN's Florida Keys reporter until July 2022.
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