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The Great Backyard Bird Count

February 20, 2017

Scrub Jay

Birds are all around us.  They are our own local avian dinosaurs. Their presence, or absence, tells us what’s happening in our environment. Literally, canaries were carried down into coal mines in a cage: the miners’ early warning indicators of a carbon monoxide buildup. Remember DDT? This one-size-kills-all-bugs was the wonder of the post-World War II world. Until folks noticed broken, unhatched eggs in the nests of hawks and eagles and falcons.

While technology has taken over the sensor duties in mines, birds still provide environmental services for humans. The smaller birds eat weed seeds and pesky insects, while the larger predators control rodent populations.

They still serve as harbingers: white crowned and yellow crowned sparrows, and hermit thrushes at our feeder tells me that winter is near. And, once they disappear, I know that spring is on it’s way. Their songs announce a change in the weather, a change in the seasons, a prowling cat nearby. Their colors can camouflage or illuminate.

As environmental indicators, they are small and mobile and not always obvious, which makes it hard to track the health of bird populations. There are researchers who band and track birds, but they can only gain a small window on bird welfare. Enter the Great Backyard Bird Count: a joint project of the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Over the years, many research endeavors have turned to “citizen science” to collect data and better understand the state and patterns in nature.

The Great Backyard Bird Count allows people all over the world to submit just 15 minutes (or more) of observations in their own backyard. Simply by reporting your observations, you provide invaluable data for scientists, and help the planet. The results, with maps and photos, are published here, with links to details. All of this information gives bird scientists a much better picture on the health of bird populations, which reflects the health of our environment. There are plenty of resources to help identify birds on the site, and Audubon has apps to help identify birds and track your sightings. eBird, a result of the collaboration between Cornell and Audubon provides a place to report your sightings all year long.

Think birding is nerdy? Well, yes, it is a bit nerdy. But, it’s also the new cool. Many people who watch birds don’t necessarily talk about it. And like any endeavor, participants range form the occasional “nice bird” observer to the mad, globe-trotting, list-obsessed birder.

Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle. Yes, I keep lists, especially when we travel. There are at least seven books on US/Canadian birds on our shelves, and at least the same amount for other international locations. We have two seed feeders, three hummingbird feeders and a bird bath outside our windows. A list of the “usuals” in our yard can be found here.

Anyone, yes anyone, can appreciate the beauty and the charm of neighborhood birds, from the tiny Anna’s Hummingbird, to the behemoth turkeys that stroll our driveways. Make it a part of your everyday routine to enjoy the feathered neighbors here on Berta Ridge.

From → Birds

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