Thursday, February 5, 2009

Massive Great Backyard Bird Count Just Weeks Away

The continent-wide Great Backyard Bird Count returns for its 12th season Feb. 13-16. The National Audubon Society, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and the Georgia Wildlife Resources Division invite Georgians to join this event that spans North America.

Wildlife biologist Todd Schneider of the Wildlife Resources Division said there is value for scientists in the data gathered and trends reported. But what he prizes is participants paying closer attention to birds and raising their awareness of these amazing creatures.

“The best part is the educational value,” Schneider said.

All eyes are needed and all birds count, whether spotted from backyards or high-rise balconies, at city parks or state-owned natural areas.

In 2008, Georgia ranked eighth in checklists (3,135) and fifth in species (221), as watchers logged an estimated 235,772 birds. Across North America, more than 9.8 million birds and 635 species were reported via 85,725 checklists, the fourth straight year of record checklist totals. The species most frequently reported? The northern cardinal. Savannah reported the second-most species seen per city, with 166.

In the Great Backyard Bird Count, birders of all skill levels contribute data to monitoring that is considered an important component of bird conservation efforts. The count is also a gateway into citizen science programs such as Project Feeder Watch, Christmas Bird Counts and the Breeding Bird Survey. These counts can trigger a lifelong passion for birds.

During the four-day event, participants tally birds for as little as 15 minutes or as long as they like on one or more days. People enter their numbers online at www.birdcount.org, where they can explore sightings maps, lists and charts as the count progresses. The Web site includes tips to help identify birds and resources for teachers. Photos also can be submitted to an online gallery, and bird videos uploaded to a YouTube site.

For more than a decade, the Great Backyard Bird Count has kept tabs on the changing patterns of birds in winter. Last year’s reports included 12 species new to the survey, underscored declines documented by other sources for common birds such as northern bobwhites and eastern meadowlarks, and marked at least 21 species including peach-faced lovebirds and black-hooded parakeets that are not on official North American bird lists.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology Director John Fitzpatrick said that with 11 years of data, the count “has documented the fine-grained details of late-winter bird distributions better than any project in history, including some truly striking changes just over the past decade.”

The Great Backyard Bird Count is a free event sponsored in part by Wild Birds Unlimited. Visit www.birdcount.org for a free 2009 poster and details on promoting the count locally.


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