February 16, 2004

Bird Watchers Look to the Sky

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People across the country took to birdwatching in their own backyards this weekend, participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count. The GBBC is a joint program between the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. This was the seventh annual GBBC.

The GBBC, which took place from Friday through today, aims to create a continent-wide “snapshot” of bird species and populations around the country, according to a Cornell News Service press release. This kind of information is “critical to monitoring the health of [the birds’] populations.”

The GBBC is Internet-based, with data collected at the project’s main website, www.birdsource.org/gbbc. Participants keep track of birds they see on the event days and log their sightings onto the BirdSource database on the website.

John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, explained that “The near-instant availability of results allows participants to see quickly how their reports contribute to the continent-wide perspective.”

According to the press release, about 80 percent of U.S. households have private lawns.

“Backyards are an important way to create greenways for birds between parks and wild areas,” said Frank Gill, the National Audubon Society’s director of science, because they “allow for the cultivation of native plants and provide essential sanctuary to migratory birds.”

About 2.1 million acres of land are converted to residential use every year in the U.S. alone. “Participating in projects such as the Great Backyard Bird Count gives people a first-hand view of how important bird-friendly backyards are to many bird species,” Gill said.

The website offers help on such topics as “Learn About Birds”, “Show Me How”, and “Submit Your Bird Checklist”, among many others. The site also includes a vocabulary section, bird-watching and bird-feeding tips, sections for “Conservation and Ecology” and “Get Involved,” as well as results of the GBBC’s of the past 3 years. Web surfers can also learn about how snow affects the places where birds are seen, numbers of observers in every state and advice on making “Tricky IDs” for species that are easily confused with other species.

This year, there is also an emphasis on making families more “bird-friendly,” through activities such as getting children excited about birdwatching.

Along with participating in projects such as the Great Backyard Bird Count, “it’s important to remember that we’re responsible for keeping birds safe from man-made hazards,” Gill said. Suggestions include making sure to properly place birdhouses and birdfeeders and to work to minimize bird-window collisions. “Audubon At Home” also promotes a basic message that people should work to reduce pesticide use, conserve water, protect water quality, plant native species and remove invasive pests.

These actions would “involve everyone in creating healthier habitat[s] for birds, other wildlife and people, too,” according to the bird count website.

“It sounds like a really fun idea!” said Shoshannah Lenski ’06, president of Teva, Cornell’s Jewish-Environmental awareness and outdoor group. “I’d like to learn more about it and hopefully we can get Teva to participate next year.”

“It’s extremely satisfying to see that your observation is significant,” Fitzpatrick said. “These individual observations are critical to building a broadscale database of North American bird populations, and the GBBC is the only count that provides a late-winter perspective.”

As of yesterday evening, over 14,300 checklists had been submitted online for the weekend, from locations throughout the U.S. and Canada, with over 465 total species observed.

The Cornell Lab of Orinthology is a nonprofit institution which seeks to interpret and conserve “the earth’s biological diversity through research, education and citizen science focused on birds,” according to their website. The National Audubon Society’s website similarly declares that the organization is “dedicated to protecting birds and other wildlife and the habitat that supports them.”

The GBBC is also sponsored in part by Wild Birds Unlimited and the Natural Resources Conservation Association.

Archived article by Lauryn Slotnick