Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Great Backyard Bird Count This Weekend

Snowy Owl in VermontThe annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is a chance to be part of an international team of citizen scientists using specific scientific protocols and the power of the internet to provide data to professional environment and wildlife researchers and the scientific and educational institutions they represent.

From February 13–16, people of all ages, whether beginners or experts, are invited to support bird conservation by counting the number of birds, separated by species, seen during any outing or observational sitting. The information gathered will help researchers track changes in bird populations on a massive scale.

Every year, tens of thousands of participating citizen scientists from around the world record information about birds observed at their homes, in schoolyards, and at local parks or wildlife refuges, and enter their tallies at the web site, www.birdcount.org. To find out more, visit gbbc.birdcount.org and click on the ‘How to Participate’ link.

During last year’s event, North American bird watchers counted nearly 18 million individual birds of 623 different species. Their reports helped chronicle the early spring migratory routes of sandhill cranes, revealed an ongoing range expansion of introduced Eurasian collared-doves, noted declining numbers of American crows, and more. Record numbers of snowy owls were reported ranging across the northeastern states and southeastern Canada, on into the Great Lakes states and down the Atlantic Coast. GBBC researchers anticipate even more snowy owl sighting, this year.

According to Marshall Iliff, eBird Project Leader at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “after a huge irruption (a sudden increase in an animal population) like we had last winter, the following year often yields higher-than-usual numbers as well.” Iliff says that “The abundance of lemmings that produced last year’s snowy owl irruption likely continued or emerged in new areas of eastern Canada.” He believes too that, “More owls may have stayed east after last year’s irruption,’ and that “some of last year’s birds that came south are returning.”

Audubon Chief Scientist Gary Langham thinks, “This may also be a big year for finches,” noting that “GBBC participants in North America should be on the lookout for larger numbers of pine siskins and redpolls.” explaining that, “These birds push farther south when pine cone seed crops fail in the far north of Canada.”

Bird enthusiasts from 135 countries around the world participated in the 2014 bird count. Nearly 4,300 bird species, roughly 43% of all bird species in the world, were documented.

The GBBC web site, gbbc.birdcount.org, also offers links to the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology’s bird identification guidelines; with access to photos, sounds, maps, and natural history information on approximately 600 bird species. And visitors can compare their sightings with results from other participants in their county, state, or country, submit photos to an online gallery, explore results from previous years, and watch in real time as people submit their sightings from around the world.

For more information, visit http://www.BirdCount.org/ or contact local birding enthusiast and GBBC contributor, Ellen Hall, at (518) 483-0235 or hall66us@yahoo.com.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, in partnership with Bird Studies Canada.

Photo: Snowy Owl by Jane Ogilvie, VT.

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