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Great Backyard Bird Count

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The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) starts today. The GBBC runs February 15-18 and is an annual four-day event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the United States.

Anyone can participate, from beginning bird watchers to experts. You can count birds from the comfort of your recliner or you can go out into the countryside and wander through the woods.

It takes as little as 15 minutes one day, or you can count for as long as you like each day of the event.

It’s free, it’s fun, and it’s easy — and it helps the birds.

GBBC Annually Reignites Local Birder’s Interest

Laurie Dils, Olympia, has been interested in bird watching since she can remember, but didn’t get serious about birding until college, she said.

“I’m not an expert, I just love it,” Dils said.

As a busy mother of an active 11-year-old daughter that doesn’t share her love of birding, Dils said she has had to put to put her hobby “on the back burner” and isn’t able to get out for all-day birding jaunts.

Through the GBBC, Dils is able to participate without having to drop everything, “It’s not all day and I can do it wherever I am.”

Last year was Dils first time participating in the GBBC. She counted the birds at her own home feeders and also walked around Capitol Lake to count birds.

“The name ‘Backyard Bird Count’ is kind of misleading, you can count the birds that you see wherever you are,” Dils said, “it doesn’t only have to be in your backyard.”

Dils said that through this annual event and also through her participation in Project FeederWatch (see sidebar), she is able to share her love of birds and feed her passion for bird watching.

“Taking the time to stop and watch the birds reignites my interest for bird watching. It focuses my attention,” Dils said. “It makes me stop, slow down and pay attention. I’ve learned so much about my backyard group of birds, about their behavior. It’s more than just identification. I’m re-energized as a bird watcher.”

And, she says, she feels really good about the contribution she is making to the research.

Why Count Birds?

No single scientist or even a team of scientists could document the complex distribution and movements of so many bird species in a short enough time to provide a snapshot look at the health and abundance of the different flocks that the scientists need to get an accurate picture. They need citizen scientists to help gather the data.

The bird count is made in February because it gives the scientists a view as to how the birds are surviving the winter and where they are located, just before spring migrations begin in March.

Scientists use the counts and collected data to answer many questions, including:

  • How have winter’s snow and cold temperatures influenced bird populations?
  • Where are winter finches and other “irruptive” species that appear in large numbers during some years but not others?
  • How has the timing of birds’ migrations compare with past years?
  • How have bird diseases, such as West Nile virus, affected birds in different regions?
  • What kinds of differences in bird diversity in cities versus suburban, rural, and natural areas?
  • Are any birds undergoing worrisome declines that point to the need for conservation attention?

Patterns detected in GBBC data are used to alert scientists to particular species or questions that may require more detailed follow-up studies. The GBBC is led by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Audubon Society, with Bird Studies Canada and is sponsored by Wild Birds Unlimited — all of whom are in the business of studying bird behavior, population and health.

When it comes to Watching Birds, Kids Count!

The GBBC is a great citizen-scientist opportunity for kids.

“Watch and count birds in your yard, a nearby park, or maybe at your school. Report what you saw by entering your bird list online,” says the GBBC website.

The GBBC website is chock full of pages dedicated to the education and entertainment of children — coloring pages, puzzles, bird food recipes and learning guides.

Go to http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc/kids for more information.

About Kimberly Mason

Kimberly Mason is a freelance writer, photojournalist, and web designer. When she's not out chasing a story, you'll find her at work in one her three main offices — her big backyard, the Cowlitz River, or the recliner in her living room. She has four grown children, three grandchildren, and is owned by a Labrador retriever, Buddy the WonderDog.

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