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Red-bellied Woodpecker. Photo by Wendell Long  

There will never be enough scientists to gather data about bird populations. But you can help. More...

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BIRD TREASURE HUNT - President's Day Weekend

If you’re looking for a fun, free and easy activity this wintry weekend, consider participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count.  It’s simple: just count the highest number of each bird species you see together at any one time during an outing or sitting.  Plan to count birds for at least 15 minutes during February 16–19, 2007. Then, before March 1st, enter your tally at the Great Backyard Bird Count website at www.birdsource.org/gbbc.  

Great blue heron tracks in the snow.  Photo by Bet Zimmerman
Great Blue Heron tracks in the snow.

For the past ten years, the Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology have challenged all birdwatchers, from beginners to experts, kids to adults, to take part in this project. It helps answer questions like how weird winter weather has influenced local bird populations and the timing of migrations.  For example, Tree Swallows broadened their distribution from 11 states in 2001 to 20 states in 2006.  The data also helps determine the impact of diseases like West Nile Virus, and whether there are any worrisome declines for certain species. 

Last year, participants submitted 60,616 checklists and reported 7.5 million birds overall and 623 different species.  Connecticut birders counted 117 species.  Only a handful of checklists were submitted from the Quiet Corner.  None were entered for towns like Ashford, Brooklyn, Killingly or Pomfret. You could be the only one in your area to report data.

“The Great Backyard Bird Count is a community celebration of birds, birding, and nature,” said Janis Dickinson, director of Citizen Science at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “We often fail to notice how rich our surroundings are, but counting birds, even for just 15 minutes, is not only educational—it can provide a lasting source of enjoyment, turning a daily walk into a treasure hunt.”

The Great Backyard Bird Count website has more information like identification tips (e.g., how to tell a Cooper’s Hawk from the smaller Sharp-shinned), and access to bird lists, photos, sounds, and maps.  You can also submit your photos to an online gallery or participate in a photo contest, and see results of the count in real time.

You can take part wherever you are – at home, or at a local park or wildlife refuge.  Count birds at as many places and on as many days as you like during President’s Day weekend – just keep a separate list of counts for each day and/or location.  Tip: If you see a big flock, it helps to take a digital photo and then count the individuals. 

The most frequently reported birds in 2005 nationwide (by rank) were  the:  Northern Cardinal, Mourning Dove, Dark-eyed Junco, American Goldfinch, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, House Finch, Tufted Titmouse, Black-capped Chickadee and American Crow.  Other birds I’ve seen in my own yard lately include Brown-headed Cowbirds, Carolina Wrens, Eastern Bluebirds, European Starlings, Hairy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, hawks (Coopers, Sharp-shinned and Red-shouldered), Red-winged Blackbirds, White-breasted Nuthatches, and White-throated Sparrows.  Go to www.birdsource.org/gbbc to take part in wildlife history in the making. 

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Originally published in the Woodstock Villager February 16, 2007.
Red-bellied Woodpecker Photo by Wendell Long. Tracks photo by E Zimmerman

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