It’s Presidents’ Day Weekend and the Great Backyard Bird Count

Canada geese in the Big Hole River last summer.

While the current head resident at the White House is busy sucking all the oxygen out of the air, don’t forget that this coming weekend honors our first president, George Washington.

While Monday’s holiday is officially Washington’s Birthday, many have come to look at it as Presidents’ Day, and this coming weekend as the Presidents’ Day Weekend.

The third Monday of February became the designated day to observe Washington’s Birthday with the Uniform Holiday Act of 1968. Ironically, it guarantees that we never celebrate Washington’s birthday on February 22, his actual birthday.

Three other presidents were born in February. Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809. William Henry Harrison was born on February 9, 1773. Ronald Reagan was born February 6, 1911.

William Henry Harrison’s presidency is remembered for two things: the longest inaugural speech in our country’s history, and the shortest tenure in office. He took the oath of office on March 4, 1841, a cold and wet day. He didn’t wear a coat or hat, and declined a carriage and rode a horse to the capitol building. He then stood in cold rain for nearly two hours reading his 8,445-word speech. Then he rode in the inauguration parade and attended three inaugural balls that evening.

On March 26, the president came down with a cold and despite medical treatment including opium, castor oil, leeches and Virginia snakeweed, he died on April 4, just 31 days into his term. While the medical diagnosis at the time was pneumonia, a 2014 analysis of medical records, as noted on Wikipedia, indicates that a contaminated water supply at the White House was likely a contributing factor in his illness and death.

Harrison was the first president to die in office, and his vice president, John Tyler, became the first vice president to assume the office of president. In 1889, Harrison’s grandson, Benjamin Harrison, was elected president, the only grandson of a president to become president.

Presidents’ Day weekend also means that it is again time for the annual Great Backyard Bird Count, a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society.

This will be the 20th year of the annual citizen scientist project. In 1998, the first year of the Bird Count, there were around 13,500 checklists, representing the United States and Canada, submitted for the weekend. Last year, an estimated 163,763 bird watchers from over 100 countries participated in the event.

This year’s Great Backyard Bird Count takes place over this Presidents’ Day weekend, Friday, February 17 through Monday February 20.

It’s easy to participate in the Bird Count project. On any or all days of the weekend, just take a walk in your neighborhood, in a park, or any other location, and note the different kinds of birds you see and then log on to a website, birdcount.org, and report your observations.

You can do this as an individual, or you can participate as a family, or a classroom or a scout troop, or any other combination of volunteers. Use your imagination.

You don’t have to be a birder to participate in the Bird Count. Personally, I’ve participated in the Bird Count in every year since it started, and I’m not a birder, though I do find enjoyment in observing the variety of birds and bird behaviors when I’m in the outdoors.

One of the purposes of the Great Backyard Bird Count is to get a snapshot of bird species and numbers and where birds are toward the end of winter, before the spring migrations.

Here in our part of the West, there might be some interesting contrasts in bird populations compared to other years. On a trip a couple weeks ago I was on a daytime flight from Salt Lake City and was impressed with the uniform snow cover along the route paralleling Interstate 15. My hunch is that observers might not see as many early migrators this year.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is a good excuse to get out and enjoy a little nature.

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