Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Backyard Nature Wednesday: Great Backyard Bird Count

There's a big weekend coming up. No, not just President's Day with all the stores trying to lure you in with their giant, once-in-a-lifetime sales. It's even bigger than that, at least for us birders. It's the weekend of the Great Backyard Bird Count

This will be the 19th such annual count of birds, a citizen science project that aims to find out just where the birds are and how they are doing in mid-winter. The count used to take place only in North America, but a couple of years ago, it went worldwide and now helps to track bird distribution all around the globe. There are participants on every continent - except perhaps Antarctica. And who knows? Maybe this year someone will chime in from there as well.

There is special interest this year because of the big El Niño event in the Pacific. It has disrupted weather patterns, heating up the ocean, and warming many areas that are normally cold at this time of year, and scientists are predicting that there may be a few surprises in store for the bird counters this year. They may find some species displaced from their normal wintering grounds and turning up in odd places.   

Recently, for example, a Great Kiskadee, normally a resident of South Texas, showed up in South Dakota. Other unseasonal records have included an Orchard Oriole and a Chestnut-sided Warbler in the Northeast, much of which has had an unusually mild and snow-free winter up until now. It's a pretty safe bet that there will be other such reports this weekend.

The count is conducted over a four-day period, beginning Friday and ending Monday, President's Day. The event is held every year on the same weekend coinciding with President's Day. Participants observe and report birds from a specific site on any one or all of those four days. The site may be one's own backyard, which is where I do my counting, or it may be another selected and specified site including any public site such as a park, school campus, etc. 

Citizen science projects like the Great Backyard Bird Count are providing important data that scientists rely upon to give them valuable information. It's a project that is open to all, regardless of the person's skill level. The observer can spend as little as fifteen minutes counting birds or can invest several hours over the entire weekend - you choose. Once the observations are made, you go online to the GBBC website (link in the first paragraph) and report what you saw. Easy peasy!

If you haven't participated in GBBC before, why not give it a try this year? I think you'll find it fun and you'll learn more about the birds in your area, which is always a good thing to do. It doesn't require any special tools - binoculars are helpful but not strictly necessary. Just go outside and look around. The birds are everywhere and they are waiting for you.

Male House Finch, a typical winter visitor to my feeders.

8 comments:

  1. Thanks for the reminder Dorothy!

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  2. That's a cute bird there!
    I'd probably come up with crows, pigeons, and the little fatty birds I'm always telling you about; those are the only ones I see around my neighborhood in winter.

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  3. Thanks to you, I am more aware than ever of the birds in my backyard! Yesterday I saw one I haven't seen before, not one but scores! It had a crest, a rust colored chest, and was about medium size. At first I thought they were robins but then I noticed the crest. Anyway, I am reading Silent Spring, so this is quite pertinent! I guess I need a bird book so I can name while I admire. Do you have a suggestion?

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    1. I have a whole bookshelf of field guides to birds, but my standard, the one I automatically reach for, is my Sibley. Since you're in California, I would suggest the Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America. But you should probably go to a bookstore and try out several different guides and see which one "speaks" to you. Meantime, take a look at the Cedar Waxwing picture at the "All About Birds" website and see if it looks like the bird you saw.

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    2. Thanks for the advice on field guides to birds. Now I am on a quest to find one! And the All About Birds site is awesome. I should have snapped a picture, but I don't think the Cedar Waxwing is quite what I saw. Thanks for that suggestion though. My eyes are opened!

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    3. In the absence of a field guide, "All About Birds" will do in a pinch.

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