Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Get Out and Count the Birds!

I was walking in my town one mild afternoon after our most recent snowstorm. Although warmer temperatures melted a lot of it down, much of the white stuff still covered the lawns.

And yet, birds were singing – redbellied woodpeckers, house finches, chickadees, titmice. They are sensing that the worse of winter is over and spring is coming. Who needs the groundhogs?

Somehow, as I was looking ahead, I remembered the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Now, if there is one part of birding I do not like it is keeping complete records. I’ll note what I see but I am not very good about reporting exactly what day I saw what and how may. When I read on the state reporting lists that someone saw 523 herring gulls I have a hard time believing he or she is standing there going one, two, three...

Yet, I enjoy this annual counting of what birds and how many I see at my feeder. The count is co-sponsored by the National Audubon Society (separate from New Jersey Audubon, which is not directly involved in the count) and the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology. It is held every Presidents Day weekend, which means the 2013 count begins this Friday and lasts through Monday.

What you do is simple – you note the types of birds you see in a particular area and how many of them there are in 15-minute increments. You can look at what comes to your feeder or you can travel to a location and count what you see there.

The count has its own website where you can type in your findings. You can look at last year’s data, see which states had the most of a particular kind of bird (or filed the most checklists) and find photos, ways for kids to get involved, maps and even a Twitter feed. Yes, the count is on Facebook and no, there is no fee.

The aim is to aid science. By contributing an accurate count, you are telling the bird experts at Cornell which birds are the most common and not in danger of extinction and which are declining in numbers. According to the count website, “GBBC participants submitted a record-smashing 104,151 checklists with 17.4 million individual bird observations. Participants set new checklist records in 22 states and in six Canadian provinces. Across the continent and in Hawaii, participants identified 623 species.”

That's a lot of birds.

I took this picture of a pair of one of my
 favorite birds, cardinals, which visit my feeders
at all times of the year.
Participants reported the northern cardinal on more checklists than any other species for the eighth year in a row. I recorded them and was happy to do so since cardinals are one of my favorite birds. Learning the number two bird is the mourning dove was no surprise because these seem to be everywhere I look, sometimes outnumbering its cousin the pigeon.

The most numerous bird reported during the 2012 count was the snow goose, which is surprising to someone who sees more often the larger Canada geese – both migrants and the ones that foul town parks and corporate office campuses. 

If this makes you want to count birds all year long, Cornell and Audubon run eBird, which features, data,  news and features. New Jersey Audubon has its own version of eBird, too.

So whether you are off from school or work, when you are running around this Presidents Day weekend look at the birds around you, note the time and location of what you see, especially how many.

Even counter-phobes like me will be out there doing the same.

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