Counting is one of my quirky character traits. As a young girl, I would silently count my footsteps on a mountain path, the number of petals on a flower, the stars as they first appeared at dusk. It was only natural when, as a 10-year-old novice naturalist, I put this skill to good purpose by making tally marks with dates in the page margins of my first field guide to birds.
With the self-designated title “Counter of All Things” on my resume, I feel more than qualified to join fellow bird enthusiasts in the Great Backyard Bird Count, an annual four-day event in which folks from every region of the United States and Canada record the number of birds spotted in backyards, in city parks, in woodlands or fields…anywhere we choose to look. This year, the event takes place on February 12-15, just before spring migration. Data is compiled online by the project’s co-sponsors, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society.
A lot of environmentally important information is gleaned from this grassroots effort, such as how winter’s cold and snow influence bird populations; how the timing of migrations compares to previous years; how bird populations differ among suburban, rural, and natural areas; and which bird species are declining because of disease or habitat loss.
You don’t have to be an expert to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count. You need only to be able to identify the common birds of your region. An excellent online resource is The Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds. One of my favorite take-along reference books is Field Guide to Birds of North America, by Kenn Kaufman. For iPhone and iTouch users, a great new interactive resource is Audubon Birds, A Field Guide App to North American Birds, created in alliance with the National Audubon Society.
To help you keep a tally of the birds in your area, fill out a printable bird checklist for your state or province. Online data entry for 2010 will be available beginning February 12. It’s that simple. Start counting!
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