Grab your binoculars! Stock the feeders! This weekend is for the birds!
From Friday, February 17 through Sunday, February 20, you can help scientists and environmentalists by participating in The Great Backyard Bird Count. The goal of the event is to “create a real-time snapshot of where birds are across the continent,” according to the website, http://birdsource.org. From tallying chickadees to counting cardinals, beginning bird watchers through experienced ornithologists join forces to track bird diversity and population throughout North America.
So, you might wonder--why is it important to count birds? Bird populations are constantly in flux. Through tracking the quantities and varieties of breeds, scientists and ecologists can determine how temperature changes affect populations. They compare timing of migration to past years. The count helps identify any problematic declines of bird populations, allowing conservation efforts to be initiated when appropriate. They look for regions where birds are affected by disease.
But scientists could never attain an accurate count without the help of volunteers—they just don't have the resources to track populations. That's where we enter the picture! Here's how it works:
- Count birds in your area for at least 15 minutes on one or more days over the weekend. Submit a separate checklist for each day you participate. Checklists can be found here.
- Count the greatest number of individuals of each species that you see at any one time. You can find a checklist of birds common to your area by entering your zip code here.
- Finally, enter your results here.
You can choose to perform a stationary count, which is a count of birds in one place—such as your backyard. As the Great Backyard Bird Count has become more popular, many organizations lead “bird walks” or hikes, which would be considered a traveling count. (The goal here is to avoid counting birds that you've already tallied.)
If you're an educator or parent, there are excellent resources on the website for children to prepare them to participate. And—if you don't know the difference between a bluejay and a bluebird, you'll also find resources to help you identify those feathered friends. Plus, of course, you can find a slew of smartphone apps to ID birds in your backyard.
So, get out there and play scientist for a day! Or, if it's cold and rainy—look out your window, and take a tally of the birds visiting your feeders. Whatever your level of interest, 15 minutes can make a big difference in understanding the behavior and patterns of our bird populations.
It's free. It's fun. It's family friendly.