As winter continues to drag on, the ground turning from a cottony white to a sticky gumbo that covers our shoes, only to be covered once again by icy white snow, we tend to spend more time indoors. But February offers an exciting event to help alleviate the growing “cabin fever.” Feb. 18–21 is the Great Backyard Bird Count, now in its 14th year. For this popular midwinter bird count, the Cornell University Bird Laboratory, the National Audubon Society and Bird Studies Canada recruit as many bird enthusiasts as possible across the North American continent to become citizen scientists.
The data collected from the Great Backyard Bird Count is combined with data from the Christmas Bird Count, Project Feeder Watch and E-Bird to give the Cornell Bird Lab biologists an immense picture of our winter birds. Each year that these data are collected makes them more meaningful and allows scientists to investigate many far-reaching questions, such as:
*How will this winter’s snow and cold temperatures influence bird populations?
*Where are winter finches and other “irruptive” species that appear in large numbers during some years but not others?
*How will the timing of birds’ migrations compare with past years?
*How are bird diseases, such as West Nile virus, affecting birds in different regions?
*What kinds of differences in bird diversity are apparent in cities versus suburban, rural and natural areas?
*Are any birds undergoing worrisome declines that point to the need for conservation attention?
This data enables scientists and bird enthusiasts to learn more about what our birds are doing now that winter has gripped the continent. Bird populations are dynamic. They are constantly in flux. Everyone that participates in the Great Backyard Bird Count provides valuable information to scientists on overall bird populations and movements across North America.
It’s a great midwinter activity for individuals or the entire family. You can count the birds on one or all four days of the count. Count the birds at the feeders in your backyard or get outdoors and take a walk through the neighborhood or city park and count the birds you see. More ambitious birders may strike out to a wildlife refuge, area lake or woodland to count the birds.
Many schools are identifying and counting birds in their schoolyard habitat or taking a walk around the school campus, then reporting their findings to the Cornell biologists over the Great Backyard Bird Count website. Teachers use the count to enhance other classroom curriculum such as geography, art, math and computer science. Educator materials are available on the website.
Participation is easy and there is no charge. Everyone’s contribution is important. All skill levels of birders are asked to participate. It doesn’t matter whether you identify, count and report the five birds coming to your backyard bird feeder or the 75 species you see during a day’s outing to a wildlife refuge. Your data is important and will help answer many questions.
In previous years Nebraska has ranked among the top 10 states for counting the most birds along with several communities ranking in top 10 categories. Just go to www.birdcount.org to get started. You’ll find plenty of information about birds to explore and fun activities for kids.
On the day the count begins you will be able to view “real-time” maps as data is submitted and easily view information from each state and community where people are counting birds. You can compare the number of birds and bird species being counted at every location in North America with previous years. I guarantee you’ll find yourself going back to the map room numerous times to see how Nebraska ranks with the rest of the U.S.
If you do not have Internet access, you can still participate. Stop by any Wild Bird Habitat Store in Lincoln or Omaha, Neb., and pick up a Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) packet. After the count is over, mail your results to the Cornell Bird Lab or drop off your data at any Wild Bird Habitat Store. You may also request a GBBC packet from Wild Bird Habitat by mail at (800) 606-2553.
February is National Bird Feeding Month, a difficult time for many of our feathered friends due to inclement weather and a growing lack of available food resources. So why not give them a hand. Keep the feeders filled and participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count. Together we can make a difference. After all, it’s for the birds.