Great Backyard Bird Count This Weekend

In case you haven’t been paying attention, the days are getting longer, and the sunlight, on clear days, seems warmer. Every day, we’re gaining daylight, currently at the rate of 3 minutes a day. On February 15, this Saturday, here in Butte we’ll have 10 hours, 22 and a half minutes of daylight. By the end of February we’ll have 11 hours and six minutes of daylight, as we draw closer to the vernal equinox. Also, whether you like it or not, daylight time begins on March 8, just over three weeks from now.

We have a busy weekend coming up, with Valentine’s Day on Friday, and George Washington’s Birthday, or President’s Day if you prefer, on Monday. My personal quandary is that my wife’s birthday is on Sunday. I have enough trouble coming up with Christmas gifts, and this mid-February double whammy is an annual challenge.

But, if this is the President’s Day weekend, that means this is also the weekend for the 23rd annual Great Backyard Bird Count, the great citizen scientist weekend for taking a look at our neighborhoods and the status of our bird populations. The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, along with a partner, Birds Canada, and funding sponsorship by Wild Birds Unlimited.

This is an important year for the bird count, considering that scientists released a grim report last year indicating a 25 percent reduction in birds in the U.S. and Canada since 1970. Audubon scientists further project that nearly two-thirds of the birds in North America could disappear because of climate change.

Marshall Iliff, of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology says that, “In order to understand where birds are and how their numbers are changing, we need everybody’s help. Without this information, scientists will not have enough data to show where birds are declining.”

Chad Wilsey, a scientist for the National Audubon Society, says, “Birds are important because they’re excellent indicators of the health of our ecosystems. Participating in the GBBC is one of the easiest and best ways to help scientists understand how our changing climate may be affecting the world’s wildlife. 

During last year’s GBBC, citizen scientists from more than 100 countries submitted more than 210,000 bird checklists, reporting a record 6,850 species—more than half the known bird species in the world. As the data from yearly bird counts accumulates, it becomes more valuable, as scientists can identify long-term trends.

It’s easy to participate. Just take a walk around your neighborhood on any day or every day of this weekend, or go to a nearby park, or look out your window at a bird feeder, if you have one, and do your best to identify species and numbers of birds that you see. Then go online at birdcount.org and report your observations. You can download detailed instructions and other helpful information at that same website. 

If photography is among your interests, there is also a bird photography contest that goes along with the weekend activities. 

I’ll note that while I have been promoting the GBBC since the beginning of the program, I don’t claim to be a birder. I don’t keep lists of bird sightings like many do. I do, however, enjoy watching birds while I’m outside, or even just looking out the window. 

A pine siskin perching on a fence while feeding on aphids on sweet peas.

I don’t claim to be a bird photographer, but I’m kind of proud of a series of photos I got last August, when I saw a pine siskin feasting on aphids on our sweet pea vines right by our back door. I went in the house and got my camera, put on a telephoto lens and started snapping. The bird tolerated me for several minutes until Kiri, our Labrador retriever, got curious and frightened the bird away.

Enjoy this holiday weekend. Don’t forget to do something for your sweetheart on Valentine’s Day. Then do yourselves and nature a favor and do some bird watching and report your observations to the Great Backyard Bird Count.

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