BIRD COUNTS A GREAT IDEA
February 6, 2011
You do not
need a backyard to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count. A backyard
bird count, which may be viewed as a supplement to the highly successful
and important Christmas Bird Count, is a superb idea to get people throughout
the United States and Canada directly involved in an environmental phenomenon.
The accumulated records provide an overview of the abundance and distribution
of America's birds just before spring migrations.
has been held annually since 1998. This year's four-day event will be
February 18-21. According to the GBBC website, www.birdsource.org/gbbc/
the event "engages bird watchers of all ages . . . [in creating]
a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the continent. Anyone
can participate, from beginning bird watchers to experts." The minimum
amount of time required for someone to qualify is 15 minutes of bird watching
on one day. The most enthusiastic participants make counts for up to several
hours every day. Since the dates include a Friday and a Monday, school
classes could participate during a 15-minute recess. Or a class assignment
for Monday could be for children to bring in their list of birds seen
over the weekend.
website lets you submit your bird counts online. By entering your zip
code and state, you can download a printed list of the birds you can expect
to find in your area. During last year's GBBC, 97,000 checklists were
submitted by people who counted birds at backyard feeders, during walks
in their neighborhood or local park, or in natural habitats. To find out
exactly what bird watchers in your area and others saw in previous surveys
go to the Explore the Results section on the website.
criticize the use of amateurs instead of professional ornithologists for
collecting data because of a lack of scientific rigor. But the website's
guidance on how to conduct the surveys reduces the potential for error.
For example, in the 2010 count, 53,513 of the submitted checklists included
a sighting of one or more northern cardinals for a total of 265,608 individual
birds from 40 states. I would certainly trust anyone to be able to properly
identify a big red bird with a crest on its head. And if the limitations
of amateurs are taken into account, the bird censuses can unquestionably
be useful in detecting some widespread changes in bird populations that
might go unnoticed in regional studies.
of species records within and between years and localities, which are
accessible on the website, reveal some notable trends in distribution
and abundance of species and provide information on the changing patterns
of how different bird species move across the North American landscape.
For example, comparing the number of bird species counted last year in
Alabama (169), South Carolina (199), and North Carolina (183) with counts
from Minnesota (98), Michigan (115), and Massachusetts (129) supports
a supposition--more birds prefer the South during winter than the North.
You can also select a bird species and see where it was distributed one
year compared to another or compare the geographic sightings of one species
report includes a map showing where previous GBBC participants were located;
not unexpectedly the highest concentrations were in urban areas, with
many rural areas not represented at all. Caution must be taken, therefore,
in interpreting such data, as birds that visit backyard feeders are more
likely to be recorded than those that keep to forests and other areas
uninhabited by people.
A link to
the Cornell Lab of Ornithology assists in bird identification with excellent
pictures, descriptions of behavior and habitat, and a sound recording
of many native species. An added bonus is information on bird feeders
and seed preferences. Despite the limitations of a survey of this nature,
the far-reaching effort to keep track of one component of our environment
is to be commended. So mark your calendars for February 18-21 and join
GBBC 2011. This is an opportunity to participate in a truly worthwhile
effort. Happy counting!
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