Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Great Backyard Bird Count

Photo courtesy of PAM FLYNN
Baltimore Oriole
Foggy mornings, swarms of mosquitoes, neighbors mowing their lawns, unusually high temperatures, sunburned tourists, 80 degrees in February? We must be living in Florida. Yes, the weatherman said a cold front would arrive yesterday; did we shiver at the thought? Not likely. We may have added a sweatshirt to our backpacks, but all in all 65 degrees is pretty bearable, wouldn’t you say?

Well, if we aren’t shoveling snow, cleaning up hurricane debris or scraping ice off our windshields, what are we doing? Enjoying the fair weather. Floridians have earned it. Kayaking, canoeing, camping, biking, hiking, fishing, boating, picnics in the park, backyard barbecues, and backyard birdying. Our feeders are windows of opportunity. Who came to dinner at your place this week?

People of all ages, and of all levels of experience, are invited to join the Great Backyard Bird Count which spans all of the United States and Canada Feb. 16 to 19. Participants can take part wherever they are. They simply count the highest number of each species they see during an outing or a sitting, and enter their tally on the Great Backyard Bird Count Web site at This year marks the tenth anniversary of the GBBC, and Cornell and Audubon are challenging people everywhere to participate in greater numbers than ever before.

“We are encouraging people who have never done so before to go outside and count birds,” said Paul Green, Audubon’s director of Citizen Science. “By submitting their counts online, bird watchers can quickly see how the dots they put on the map form patterns that tell new stories about the birds that share the world in which we live, including our own backyards and parks.”

Pat Leonard of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Erica Barton of the Audubon Society report in a recent press release, “Last year, participants submitted more than 60,000 checklists and reported 7.5 million birds overall and 623 different species. Together, the counts offer a real-time snapshot of the numbers and kinds of birds that people are finding, from boreal chickadees in Alaska to anhingas in Florida. The information is used to track bird populations and to better inform conservation efforts.”

A panel of six judges from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society reviewed more than 3,000 photos submitted during the 2006 Great Backyard Bird Count. Florida ranked ninth as the top 10 birdying checklist winners: 2,263 record, with a previous record of 2,134 in 2005.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is looking for volunteers. Participants who want to hone their bird watching skills can learn more from the GBBC Web site, which offers identification tips and a multimedia guide to 500 bird species. People can also submit photos to an online gallery showcasing the dazzling array of winter birds found during the GBBC. Competitions add another element of fun, including a prize drawing for everyone who submits a checklist, a photo contest, and the coveted “checklist champ” title for towns, states, and provinces with the highest participation.

Join the birdy fun in Florida. Go ahead and stuff a sweatshirt into your backpack (just in case), grab a pair of binoculars, sunscreen and don’t forget that tube of insect repellent. Help the birds during the Great Backyard Bird Count … enjoy being back to nature.