Christmas Bird Counters Spot Trio of Rare Scarlet Ibis

Three Scarlet Ibis were spotted during the Christmas Bird Count on Southgate Pond. (Photo by Toni Lance)
Three Scarlet Ibis were spotted during the Christmas Bird Count on Southgate Pond. (Photo by Toni Lance)

Total numbers were down for the 2019 Christmas Bird Count on St. Croix compared to the previous year, but the appearance of three scarlet ibis – two adults and a juvenile – a species never before recorded on St. Croix, at the edge of the Southgate Pond made up somewhat for the lower numbers for the annual tally.

Scarlet ibises typically are found south of the Virgin Islands, on the islands of Trinidad and Tobago, where it is considered the national bird. They are also common along the coasts of Colombia, Venezuela, Suriname, French Guiana and Brazil.

According to Jennifer Valiulis, executive director of the St. Croix Environmental Association, the birds landed in the pond because they “found the pond to be a safe and health environment.” Whether they remain on the island is yet to be seen but Valiulis cautioned the public not to disturb the birds.

Another surprise visitor to St. Croix was a white-eyed vireo spotted east of the National Guard Armory. The vireo species is not new to St. Croix but has not been recorded during the Christmas Bird Count.

This year, 438 fewer birds were counted during the count, which took place Dec. 15, according to Bill Boynton, the Audubon Christmas Bird Count coordinator for St. Croix. The reduced numbers were likely due to the dry conditions, he said.

“Without sufficient open water in these inland ponds, our wintering birds won’t stay around,” he said in a news release.

Although there were fewer birds, 52 volunteers, more than ever before, walked, hiked, or drove to count the birds on the designated Sunday. The top 10 birds tallied were cattle egret, Zenaida dove, black-necked stilt, brown pelican, royal tern, gray kingbird, common Moorhen, scaly-naped pigeon, bananaquit and American coots.

This year’s Christmas Bird Count ran from Dec. 14, 2019, to Jan. 5, 2020.

The early winter bird census has taken place across the United States, Canada and several countries for the last 120 years. Each count takes place in a 15-mile wide circle. Volunteers count every bird they see or hear all day. The Audubon Bird Count is supported 100 percent by donations.