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Outside » Natural World

Great Backyard Bird Count: No experience needed for massive bird count

Spotted Towhee willing to be tallied while pigging out on free food. If you're stuck indoors and wish you could get out to do some



Spotted Towhee willing to be tallied while pigging out on free food. If you're stuck indoors and wish you could get out to do some birding, don't feel bad. The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is about to happen! For four days, Feb. 15 to 18, you can count every bird on your feeder. You will not only have a lot of fun doing it, but the results are vital to the welfare of birds in your area.

The GBBC is a partnership between Cornell University's Laboratory of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, and sponsored in part by Wild Birds Unlimited. The annual four-day event engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where birds are across the continent. Anyone can participate, from beginning bird watchers to experts. It's free, fun, and easy-and it helps the birds.

Participants count birds anywhere for as little or as long as they wish during the four-day period. They tally the highest number of birds of each species seen together at any one time. To report their counts, they fill out an online checklist at

Participating in the count is simple. Bird-watchers are asked to spend at least 15 minutes in a single spot, recording the largest number of each species seen at any one time. Multiple surveys can be done at different locations. The count started Friday and ends Monday, but surveys don't have to be submitted for all four days.

Bird counters can download lists of species specific to the areas where they live, helping narrow down their choices when identifying birds.

As the count progresses, anyone with Internet access can explore what is being reported from their own towns or anywhere in the United States and Canada. They can also see how this year's numbers compare with those from previous years. Participants may also send in photographs of the birds they see, which are posted in an online gallery.

Last year GBBC participants submitted more than 80,000 checklists, an all-time record for the 10 years of the count. In all, more than 7.6 million birds comprising more than 600 species were tallied.

Why count birds?

Because bird populations are constantly in flux, no single scientist or team of scientists could hope to document the complex distribution and movements of so many species in such a short time. And scientists can learn a lot about birds just by knowing where they are at a given time.

GBBC need your help; please make sure the birds from your community are well represented in the count. It doesn't matter whether you report the five species coming to your backyard feeder or 75 species you see during a day's outing to a wildlife refuge, Fort Rock State Park, Cold Springs Campground or Drake Park.

Maybe you like to watch birds, but just aren't sure you're "good enough" to participate. In the case of the GBBC, recording data is accepted from ALL levels of bird-watchers. Moreover, there's a couple ways to improve your spotting skills.

Invest in a good bird identification book. Read the descriptions, because many birds have distinct behaviors.

If you don't have as good pair of binoculars, try to borrow some from a friend. A spotting scope would be nice to have, especially if you're sitting in your house looking at the feeder. A scope also works well if you're in a vehicle and can mount it to window. It has to be steady to use successfully, even mounted to a rifle stock works very well. he GBBC website provides an online link to Cornell University's bird guide. And, as always, there's one sure method of improving your skills: "Practice."

The old saying, "Practice makes perfect" really works when observing birds. For help, you can also go to the (Project Feeder Watch website

The national bird count gives researchers a snapshot of bird populations and locations for the entire continent. It provides trend information as populations grow and shrink, their ranges expanding or contracting. The information is published and free.

"It's just this massive database out there for ornithologists to use for their studies, or for conservation purposes," said Pat Leonard of the Cornell lab.

Residents eager to boost bird numbers and diversity can make their backyards and neighborhoods more welcoming.

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