Anyone who enjoys bird watching has an opportunity this weekend to participate in the 13th Annual Great Backyard Bird Count on Feb. 12-15.
Sponsored by the National Audubon Society with help from Wild Birds Unlimited, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Resource Conservation Science and the National Science Foundation.
Last year just over 94,000 checklists were submitted from the bird count. Nearly 11.6 million birds representing 620 species were tracked.
"Taking part in the Great Backyard Bird Count is a great way to get outside with family and friends, have fun, and help birds--all at the same time," said Audubon education vice president, Judy Braus.
"Even if you can only identify a few species you can provide important information that enables scientists to learn more about how the environment is changing and how that affects our conservation priorities."
Participation is free and fairly easy. Get a bird count checklist from www.birdsource.org/gbbc. Select a site. This can be in your backyard, a park or any area. Watch the site for at least 15 minutes.
Look at the site as if you were taking a snapshot. Count all the birds you see and record the highest number for each species. Record the weather conditions, time of day and time spent on counting birds.
Count the greatest number of individuals of each species that you see together at any one time. You may find it helpful to print out a regional bird checklist to get an idea of the kinds of birds you're likely to see in the area in February.
When you're finished, enter your results on the Web site. You'll see a button marked "Enter Your Checklists" on the home page beginning on the first day of the count. It will remain active until the deadline for data submission on March 1.
"The GBBC is a perfect first step towards the sort of intensive monitoring needed to discover how birds are responding to environmental change," said Janis Dickinson, the director of Citizen Science at the Cornell Lab.
"Winter is such a vulnerable period for birds, so winter bird distributions are likely to be very sensitive to change. There is only one way -- citizen science -- to gather data on private lands where people live and GBBC has been doing this across the continent for many years. GBBC has enormous potential both as an early warning system and in capturing and engaging people in more intensive sampling of birds across the landscape," adds Dickinson.
Bird populations are always shifting and changing. For example, 2009 GBBC data highlighted a huge southern invasion of Pine Siskins across much of the eastern United States. Participants counted 279,469 Pine Siskins on 18,528 checklists, as compared to the previous high of 38,977 birds on 4,069 checklists in 2005. Failure of seed crops farther north caused the Siskins to move south to find their favorite food.
On the www.birdcount.org website, participants can explore real-time maps and charts that show what others are reporting during the count.
The site has tips to help identify birds and special materials for educators. Participants may also enter the GBBC photo contest by uploading images taken during the count. Many images will be featured in the GBBC website's photo gallery. All participants are entered in a drawing for prizes that include bird feeders, binoculars, books, CDs, and many other great birding products.
For more information about the GBBC, visit the website at www.birdcount.org. Or contact the Cornell Lab of Ornithology at (800) 843-2473, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Audubon at (202) 861-2242 ext 3050, email@example.com. In Canada, participants may contact Bird Studies Canada at 1- (888)- 448-2473 ext. 134 or firstname.lastname@example.org.