What was the first bird you saw today? Do you even notice that there are birds all around you, but that you might see different species at different times of the year?
Taking part in the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) will heighten your everyday awareness that nature, and especially the winged kind, is everywhere.
The 16th annual GBBC will begin Friday, February 15, and continue through Monday, February 18. Worldwide, bird watchers of all ages will be counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are. And you can take part in this, whether you are an expert birder or a mere beginner (as I am!).
Everyone is welcome. It only takes about 15 minutes on one day, or you can count for as long as you like each day of the event. It’s free, fun, and easy — and it helps the birds.
Here’s how it worked out in 2012:
Total Checklists Submitted: 104,285
Total Species Observed: 623
Total Individual Birds Counted: 17,382,831
That’s a whole lot of birds! As the count progresses, you can check out what is being reported from your own neighborhood or from anywhere in the world. You can also send in photographs of the birds you see for the GBBC photo contest.
By participating, you will be helping scientists learn more about bird populations – like how factors like weather and disease affect their numbers, and how migration patterns change over time. Bird populations are constantly in flux. No single scientist or team of scientists could hope to document and understand the complex distribution and movements of so many species in such a short time.
A few more questions you can help answer:
• How will the weather influence bird populations?
• Where are winter finches and other “irruptive” species that appear in large numbers during some years but not others?
• 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?
How To Participate
1. Go to www.birdsource.org/gbbc to create an account, which you can do on February 15, once the GBBC begins.
2. Count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the GBBC. Count birds in as many places and on as many days as you like. Tally the number of individual birds of each species you see during your count period.
3. Enter your results on the GBBC website. You’ll see a button marked “Enter Your Checklists!” on the GBBC website home page beginning at 7:00 AM Eastern time (U.S.) on the first day of the count.
Concerned that you won’t be able to identify the birds you see? No problem: Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Online Bird Guide, a dynamic resource for bird identification tips, sounds, maps and natural history information. You’ll also find tips on attracting birds to your bird feeder, as well as information on birding tools like binoculars, and a guide to distinguishing birds that look really similar.
And don’t worry that you have to behave like Steve Marin, Jack Black or Owen Wilson in the movie “The Big Year.” The title refers to an annual contest to see who can spot the most varieties of birds in a calendar year. The film depicts the events of 1998, when the combination of El Niño and the determination of three men produced the greatest Big Year battle in birding history.
Well, you don’t have to be crazy as they are, in their competitive pursuit of the most birds, but you might experience what they do: the feeling of being completely immersed and ensnared by the sublime beauty of the natural world.
Welcome to the magical world of birds!
Photo Credit: thinkstock