The Great Backyard Bird Count to be held on February 17 – 20, 2012 is a fun opportunity to help scientists gather data on bird populations across North America. The annual event, now in its 15th year, is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Audubon and Bird Studies Canada.
The bird count is designed for participants of all ages and for bird enthusiasts of all expertise levels from beginners to experienced bird watchers. People who would like to participate are asked to spend a small amount of time during any day of the event counting birds at their location of choice. Participation in the event is free and no registration is required. There is even a contest for people who would like to submit photographs of the birds that they observe.
Participation is very easy. You simply need to: (1) pick a location, which can be your backyard, a local park or a wildlife refuge, (2) visit your chosen site during one or more days of the event to count the types and the number of birds that you observe over at least a 15 minute period and (3) submit your results to the Great Backyard Bird Count. Just be sure to visit the Great Backyard Bird Count website here before heading out to download data entry forms and to get some bird identification tips and a regional checklist to help you determine what species of birds you are most likely to encounter.
Gary Langham, Audubon’s Chief Scientist stated in a press release:
This count is so much fun because anyone can take part – we all learn and watch birds together – whether you are an expert, novice, or feeder watcher.
Data from the bird count are used to help scientists answer a variety of important conservation questions such as are populations of some species increasing or decreasing, how well are birds recovering from the West Nile virus and what levels of biodiversity are present in urban, rural and natural areas?
Data from the 2012 bird count will be particularly important in determining whether or not the warm winter temperatures and lack of snow in parts of North America are impacting spring migration patterns. Also, scientists are curious if anyone will spot a Snowy Owl, as many of these Arctic birds have been venturing south in unusual numbers this winter.
During the 2011 Great Backyard Bird Count participants submitted approximately 92,000 checklists with more than 11 million bird observations. The most frequently reported birds during the 2011 count were Northern Cardinals, Mourning Doves and Dark -eyed Juncos. Overall, participants identified 596 species of birds across North America. The most species were found in Texas where participants identified a total of 326 different birds.
John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, commented on the value of the bird count data in the press release:
This is a very detailed snapshot of continental bird distributions. Imagine scientists 250 years from now being able to compare these data with their own. Already, with more than a decade of data in hand, the [Great Backyard Bird Count] has documented changes in late-winter bird distributions.
Sponsors of this year’s event include Cornell Information Technologies, the National Science Foundation, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Wild Birds Unlimited. The organizers of this year’s event are hoping to attract a record number of participants.
Bottom line: The Great Backyard Bird Count will be held on February 17 – 20, 2012. The annual event, now in its 15th year, is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Audubon and Bird Studies Canada. The aim of the participatory science project is to document changes in late-winter bird distributions.
Deanna Conners is an Environmental Scientist who holds a Ph.D. in Toxicology and an M.S. in Environmental Studies. Her interest in toxicology stems from having grown up near the Love Canal Superfund Site in New York. Her current work is to provide high-quality scientific information to the public and decision-makers and to help build cross-disciplinary partnerships that help solve environmental problems. She writes about Earth science and nature conservation for EarthSky.