Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Great Backyard Bird Count - A Citizen Science Project

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This upcoming weekend - Feb. 15-Feb. 18, 2013 marks the 16th annual Great Backyard Bird Count organized by Home and Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Exploring and Conserving Nature

Scientists can't be everywhere and depend on "citizens" of any bird watching ability to count birds in their area and report the data online to give a clear picture of what is happening nationally and world wide to bird populations.  It takes as little as 15 minutes each of the four days, but you are welcome to bird watch longer.  Tally the number of individual birds of each species you see during the count period and then enter them on the GBBC website.  The trick is to count the largest number of the species you see at any one time.  If you see 3 cardinals at your feeder, then 1 cardinal 10 minutes later, you would not tally 4, because you could be counting the same bird again - so your count would be 3 for that 15 minute time period.

Where to participate?

Anywhere!  You could go to a National Wildlife Refuge or National or State Park like we did in 2011 - at Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge.  With over 3,400 acres of wetlands, it is a great spot to count migrating waterfowl.  Our checklist tallies have included thousands of snow geese and dozens of bald eagles.

                   

Or your own backyard - fill your feeders - or make your own!  For the 2010 GBBC, we used cookie cutters to cut shapes out of stale bread - covered in peanut butter and bird food and also made fruit and popcorn garland.  Then we watched and tallied as the birds ate our creations!

                       



Why Participate?
  • Your community will be represented
  • Scientists can study:
    •  year-to-year changes in numbers and distribution
    • Patterns of migration
    • Trends reflecting possible effects of urbanization, climate change, and disease
  • It is a FREE, FUN, way to learn and get outside!
Past bird counts have shown how West Nile virus affected the American Crow - dropping its numbers from a top 2 most tallied bird, down to a low of 9th most reported.  A global climate change could affect the distribution of your states bird.  Milder winter climates are moving many species, such as the Purple Finch, Wild Turkey, Ring-Billed Gull, and Red Breasted Merganser are moving an average of 400 miles to the north.  The count has also shown how the non-native Eurasian Collard-Dove, which was introduced in the Bahamas in 1980, moved into Florida a few years later and has continued to spread since.

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How do I Participate?

Check out the Great Backyard Bird Count website to register for free and where you will go to submit your count totals.

Start Here - 2013_OpenSlide_250px.jpg  Check out the PPT with detailed descriptions of how to register, where to locate your specific communities checklist (why have a list of birds you will never see in your zip code!), and how to enter your data.

The website also has good references on how to identify birds, check differences between very similar looking birds, bird feeding tips, resources for educators and games and puzzles for kids.

I had my high school students participate for the past 7 years.  It was a great way to get them to take the time to observe nature, understand global bird trends and learn the meaning of citizen science.  Check out the PPT that was created to show them how to study beaks, legs and feet to determine order characteristics and a quiz with the picture and song of popular Kansas birds.


 
 
I would love to hear in the comments section if you used the Bird Watching PPT or participated in the GBBC - happy Bird Watching!


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