For more than a hundred years, The National Audubon Society has educated the public on wildlife’s benefit to humanity. It has protected and restored wildlife habitats, and implemented polices safeguarding birds and other animals.
Since 1998, novice bird watchers to experienced Birders have participated in The Great Backyard Bird Count. This four day, mid-February event is sponsored by the Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, when more than 150,000 people in 130 countries report on species, and number of birds seen at a specific location. Anyone of any age is invited to count birds for a minimum of 15 minutes, or as long as they want, during the four days, then report their sightings online.
In addition to the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count, these 'citizen scientists' collect vital data about shifting migratory patterns, influence of weather and climate change, environmental impact, and other important issues effecting bird populations.
As a novice bird watcher, I thought it might be fun to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count. I have been on brief bird watching outings with the local Audubon chapter and had a moderately good idea of what was expected.
Taking my limited knowledge of birding and my binoculars, (perfectly adequate for checking on the neighbors, but far from Audubon standards) I bundled up and headed for a grassy area near the Anacostia River. Supposedly, the key to successful birding is getting out early when the little guys are foraging for breakfast. Although, finding species that prefer foraging for brunch or a late lunch is much more conducive to my schedule.
Clipboard in hand, I stood in ankle deep snow, ready to meticulously record the number and species of birds I saw. Within a few minutes, I encountered two bald eagles. I introduced myself and asked if they would mind answering a question.
Me: “How many eagles reside in your nest?”
Eagle: “Just the two of us. We had two eaglets but they flew the coop. Right now, we’re empty-nesters.”
Me: “That’s all the information I need. We appreciate your participation in the Great Backyard Bird Count….oh, and thank you for your service.”
Within forty-five minutes, I recorded three Winter Wrens, eight Blue Jays, twelve Mallards, seven European Starlings, two Bald Eagles, and twenty-four Canadian Geese. I planned on staying longer, but my feet were frozen inside my boots and that cute, weather guy on channel 4 was predicting freezing rain.
This year marks the 22nd annual Great Backyard Bird Count. It goes from Friday, February 15th through Monday, February 18th. Information on how to participate, registration, and help with identifying species can be found at: http://gbbc.birdcount.org/_
Whether you are a beginner Birdwatcher, an expert Birder, or a tenacious Twitcher, the Great Backyard Bird Count is a fun way to spend a cold winters’ day, and make a contribution to an important scientific study.
Grab your field guide, notebook, binoculars, a Thermos of hot coffee, and remember to dress warmly. Where you count is not important. Choose a meadow, riverbank, city park or even your own backyard. I’ll be dry and toasty warm inside the Capitol Building counting Hawks and Doves.