Sunday, February 10, 2008

Great Backyard Bird Count

It's that time of year again: the Great Backyard Bird Count is just around the corner. It seems obvious as to what it is, counting birds you see in your backyard. When deconstructing the name we find that's almost what it's all about.
  • It is "Great," especially talking about the fun you'll have, the importance of the data you're collecting, and the effort that comprises the count (81,003 checklists submitted last year).
  • It does not have to be your "Backyard." Count wherever you happen to be: I've submitted checklists from our yard, my parent's yard, local parks, work, and overnight trips to birding hotspots.
  • It is all about the "Birds," which you're almost guaranteed to see anywhere you go.
  • You do have to "Count" what you identify, and hopefully that will keep you counting on future checklists you keep, improving the value of your observations for science. For your observations to "count" towards the greater good, though, you do have to make sure you follow the protocol and are submitted to the analysts at the Cornell Lab and Audubon.
It really is simple. To get started, check out the GBBC website, where you can learn how to participate, get ideas on involving kids, view previous years' stats and maps and what scientific stories they tell, find participant photos, read this years' behind-the-scenes blog, and more.

And while you're at it, chime in on 10,'s new promotion: vote on your favorite backyard bird and be eligible to win a copy of Audubon's Backyard Birdwatch by Steve Kress. In a nutshell, this is the must-have guide for the common backyard birds you're likely to encounter - why leaf through all 900+ species that occur in North America when Steve can focus your attention to the most likely candidates? Not sure you want this book? Read more here, at 10,'s review of Audubon's Backyard Birdwatch.

The promotion entails, and I quote, "naming the bird that you most enjoy seeing in your backyard. Feel free to briefly state why you favor that bird over all others."

I'm sometimes accused of being too literal, alternately a smart-ass, but here's my answer:

Our favorite backyard bird: this specific
Black-capped Chickadee, named PBlu--RX

Yes, this individual, whom we know as Pink-Blue-Red-Silver, was banded in our yard three years ago and is a regular visitor to our feeders. In addition to being taxonomically assigned to our favorite species (Black-capped Chickadee), we are happy this specific one continues to grace our yard with his (or her) presence. Like all chickadees, not only does he (or she) come across as friendly and happy-go-lucky, their antics are bound to brighten the darkest winter day, their happy "dee-dee-dee"-ing a welcome upbeat chorus in the silence of winter. And, truth be told, in fall and spring they can lead you to amazing mixed species flocks of migrating passerines. And all they want in return: some sunflower seed and maybe a nest box. What more can you ask for?

Finally, keep up with the Birdchaser. He's a coordinator of the event and has lots of great info, reports, and updates on his personal blog. I'll leave you with a few images from a couple of our past Great Backyard Birds Counts. Happy counting to you and yours!

Reina's first GBBC, 2005. I helped count the Wild Turkeys
at our feeder. Come to think of it, I helped identify them, too.

GBBC 2006. Purple Finches are present in our area throughout
the winter, though hit-or-miss on any particular day. That's why
the count lasts for four consecutive days: to get an accurate
representation by counting several times over the count period.

GBBC 2007. If you're having trouble counting
distant birds, bring them closer! Look carefully,
there are two chickadees in this photo.

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