The days are getting longer, and on sunny afternoons the sun has a little more power every day. It may be winter in Montana but spring is on its way, and one sign of spring is that this weekend will be the 13th annual Great Backyard Bird Count.
The Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual effort sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the National Audubon Society and, this year, a new partner, Bird Studies Canada
The object of the Great Backyard Bird Count is to get a snapshot as to bird numbers and species and where they are in mid-February, near the end of winter and just before the beginning of the spring migrations.
The Great Backyard Bird Count is a way for almost anybody to participate in this major scientific study of birds. It’s easy and it’s simple. All there’s to it is to go outside sometime this weekend, Friday, February 12 through February 15, and make a note at what birds you see. When you get back in the house, just log onto the internet to www.birdcount.org and report your observations. You don’t have to be a regular birder to participate. You can participate on one day, or every day. It’s up to you.
Last year, participants turned in more than 93,600 reports, making it the continent’s largest snapshot of bird populations ever recorded.
Taking part in the Great Backyard Bird Count is a great way to get outside with family and friends, have fun, and help birds—all at the same time,” said Audubon Education Vice President, Judy Braus. “Even if you can only identify a few species you can provide important information that enables scientists to learn more about how the environment is changing and how that affects our conservation priorities.”
“The GBBC is a perfect first step towards the sort of intensive monitoring needed to discover how birds are responding to environmental change,” said Janis Dickinson, the director of Citizen Science at the Cornell Lab. “Winter is such a vulnerable period for birds, so winter bird distributions are likely to be very sensitive to change. There is only one way—citizen science—to gather data on private lands where people live and GBBC has been doing this across the continent for many years. GBBC has enormous potential both as an early warning system and in capturing and engaging people in more intensive sampling of birds across the landscape.
Last year in Montana, some highlights of the bird count reported large numbers of waterfowl, with Canada geese leading all bird species, with 18,600 birds reported. Mallard ducks came in next with 5,901. Other game birds spotted included pheasants, Hungarian (gray) partridge, sharptail grouse, ruffed grouse and wild turkeys, among others. Surprisingly, there were even some sightings of California quail.
It’s also interesting to look back to 1998, the first year of the Great Backyard Bird Count. Amazingly, there weren’t any game birds or waterfowl reported in Montana. Most of the birds reported that year were of what I might consider as urban birds, along the lines of chickadees, pigeons, sparrows and the like. I’d surmise that the difference would reflect wider participation and getting out in the countryside to see what’s out there.
Another striking difference is that in 1998 there were no eagle sightings. In 2009 there were 398 bald eagle and 70 golden eagle sightings reported. Again, it’s an indication of greater and more varied participation by citizen observers.
Again, it’s easy to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count. You can do it as a family, as a classroom, or by yourself. Take a walk in your neighborhood or take a drive out in the countryside. If you have a bird book and pair of binoculars, that can help you spot and identify birds. Then when you get home, log onto the internet and make your report. There’s also a photo contest that goes along with the project, so take your camera along, too (details, and photos from previous years, are on the web).
Best of all, if you’re suffering from cabin fever, going outside is the best cure.