I have just mailed in a count for the Great Backyard Bird Count to the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology at Ithaca, N.Y. This count is a joint effort of the Laboratory of Ornithology and Audubon. It is such an easy count to do that I thought some of you might be interested in taking part next year.
The count is held once a year, and all you have to do is count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days during the four-day count period; this year it was Feb. 13-16. You may take your count almost anywhere: your backyard, around your feeding station, on a hike, in a schoolyard, out your office window, in nearby parks, a nature preserve, at a pond or lake, etc. All you have to do is fill out a brief form on the location, habitat and the highest number of each species seen, the date and amount of time spent. The information can then be sent through the Internet, saving both you and the lab time. Or if, like me, you are not on the Internet, there’s a form you can mail in, and the lab will enter the data into its computer system. A very easy process.
Why should you do this? First of all, it is fun. Secondly, you are really making a contribution to an important ornithological study, and it helps gather information from all over the country. A friend came to my house, and we counted the birds seen in our yard through the windows during a one-hour period, filled out the form and mailed it. No big deal. It took so little time out of my day that it would make me feel guilty if I didn’t do it.
The Great Back Yard Bird Count is a great project for teachers; it can be a project in which all students can participate. The class can send a report from the schoolyard, or each student can count in her own yard at home or elsewhere and bring the report to class. Participants can also look up counts on the website to see what other local groups or individuals have sent in reports and what they have seen.
Many studies already are being done using the information collected over the past few years across the U.S. and Canada. Some of the questions being answered are: How will winter cold and snow influence bird populations? Where are winter finches, owls and other “irruptive” species to be found this winter? Which birds are showing an increase or decline? How is temperature change affecting the location of birds?
In 2008 count reports, participants reported 9.8 million birds of 635 species. They submitted more than 85,000 reports. All of this information is bound to bring answers to many questions and to generate even more questions. It is hoped that most observers will continue reporting for several or many years. The longer the period of time reports come in from the same location, the more changes in bird populations will be shown. Become a citizen scientist and decide now to join in this count next year. All of the information for this article and a great deal more can be found on the Internet. Visit www.birdsource.org, for starters.
Many of you have no doubt already seen reports of some of the studies being done by Audubon using the past 40 years of Christmas Bird Count statistics. These reports have shown an alarming drop in population in many species of birds but especially in the grassland birds. The study of these counts also shows that many species are spending the winter farther north. This appears to correlate with the average temperature change of 5 degrees Fahrenheit in the United States for the month of January over the same time period.
The computer whizzes are busily searching the records to find answers to many questions, and the more data they receive from us, the better the results will be. Join the Christmas Bird Count and the Great Backyard Bird Count next year and then enjoy seeing the results.
The current warming trend is also affecting plants and animals. Several studies are beginning to show that many plants are flowering at earlier dates and/or at higher altitudes. This not only affects the plants but also affects the birds, insects and small animals that feed on the blooms.