The Great Backyard Bird Count for 2011

Here’s a sure-fire cure for cabin fever, an opportunity to get out of the house and get involved in a science project that’s easy, fun and important.

Yes, it’s time, once again, for the Great Backyard Bird Count, the annual cooperative project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Audubon Society, and Bird Studies Canada. The object of the Bird Count is to get a snapshot of North American birds and where they are in mid-February, in the weeks before spring migrations. The study period, as always, is this weekend, February 18 – 21, the Washington’s Birthday holiday weekend.

According to sponsors of the Bird Count, bird populations are constantly changing. No single scientist or team of scientists can realistically keep track of the complicated patterns of bird movement, or how the various bird species range expands or shrinks over time. The information accumulated in this citizens’ project goes into a massive bird database called the Avian Knowledge Network, which now holds some 36 million records of bird observations.

It’s easy to participate. It’s simply a matter of making a point to count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the study. If you have a bird feeder you could do it from the window of your house, or take a walk in your neighborhood or in a park. However you do it, just keep track of the different birds you found and their numbers. Then log onto the internet to and submit your list of birds identified and counted.

There are tips and instructions, including videos, slide shows, forms, and other helpful information at If you’re a shutterbug, there is also a photography contest.

Last year in Montana, volunteer observers reported 121 species of birds. Canada geese and mallard ducks were the most widely reported birds, an indication of how well waterfowl are adapted to northern winters as well as how they adapt to urban areas. In addition to waterfowl, observers noted game birds such as pheasants, partridge, ruffed grouse, wild turkeys and even California quail. Other common birds included crows, ravens, chickadees, nuthatches, Bohemian waxwings and various sparrows.

You don’t have to be an expert or a birdwatcher to participate. Just do it because it’s fun.

As this is the Washington’s Birthday holiday weekend, or Presidents Day, as some call it, let’s have a little history lesson about another president, Andrew Jackson.

Recently some Montana legislators have talked about ‘nullification,’ asserting some sort of right for Montana to opt out of Federal legislation such as health care, or going off on tangents such as defining citizenship contrary to the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, and conveniently ignoring a basic principle that federal law trumps state law.

This is an old argument that precipitated a national crisis during the presidency of President Jackson. Jackson’s first term Vice President, John C. Calhoun of South Carolina, raised the issue over a tariff law considered to be harmful to southern states. Calhoun’s home state of South Carolina threatened to secede from the Union over the issue.

Calhoun understood that secession would likely ruin his own presidential ambitions, so he came up with the theory that a state could declare a law “null and void within the limits of the State.”

Calhoun and Jackson vehemently disagreed. Jackson dropped Calhoun from the ticket in the 1832 election. In Congress, prominent leaders entered the debate, including the likes of Daniel Webster, John Quincy Adams, and a new Vice President, Martin Van Buren.

South Carolina’s tariff dispute with the federal government finally ended with legislative compromise so there was no final resolution to the question of nullification, though the controversy contributed to South Carolina’s eventual secession and the Civil War.

Andrew Jackson was a study in contradictions. He was a strong believer in rights for the common man, even though he was a slave owner. He was a strong supporter of states’ rights though his presidency’s most important achievement was preserving the union through the nullification crisis. He summed up his guiding principle simply:

“Our Federal Union—it must be preserved.”