In less than a couple weeks, people from all over the world will take to their backyards again for a citizen-science project now in its 16th year of providing essential data to ornithologists – scientists who study birds.
The Great Backyard Bird Count is a four-day event held Feb. 15-18 and sponsored by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. The information gathered helps experts track species’ locations and numbers and can offer insight into their well-being.
Since 1998, the lab has invited citizens in the United States and Canada to take part in the project. Last year more than 100,000 people participated and reported 17.4 million birds. This year, they’ve opened the bird count worldwide. Anyone interested just needs to download a checklist form from the project’s website to begin counting.
“It’s almost like a snapshot of what’s going on in an area at that time,” said Corey Sperling, an environmental educator at Reedy Creek Nature Center.
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The nature center will hold a free workshop Feb. 7 to introduce people to the project and invite them to help participate in the center’s bird count. “And if you like it, you can go back and do it in your backyard,” said Sperling.
The Great Backyard Bird Count has been a wild success in Charlotte over the past few years. In 2012, 471 residents turned in checklists to the Cornell lab, ranking the city No. 2 for most participants. (Bay Shore, N.Y., took first place after turning in 522 checklists.) For the past 11 years, Charlotte has ranked first-, second- or third-place nationally.
Both the Mecklenburg Audubon Society and the Mecklenburg County Division of Nature Preserves and Natural Resources work to get the word out.
“As of 2012, we counted 91 species, and there were 21,103 birds,” Sperling said of the city’s numbers. That includes 2,062 American robins, 1,263 Carolina chickadees, 738 tufted titmice, 202 American coots, 93 purple finches, six great-horned owls, and one ruddy duck.
“One of my favorite birds is the tuft titmouse,” said Sperling. “It has a little mohawk on its head.”
Sperling believes the bird count’s popularity stems in part from its inexpensive nature.
“All you need is some kind of field guide,” he said. “You can bird-watch just using your eyes, but you definitely need a field guide to know what it is, so you can be accurate in recording your species.”
For those who want to go a little further, a pair of binoculars can help spot birds perched high in the trees. Sperling said a $30 pair would do just fine. “They work well for your common backyard bird-watching.”
To attract all kinds of species, he recommends one bird feeder with black-oil sunflower seeds and another with thistle seeds. “If you put those two feeders up, you’re going to get all the birds,” he said. Birds also like the sound of trickling water.
Sperling isn’t surprised Charlotte continues to rank so high in the bird count. Each year, the Great Backyard Bird Count turns more residents onto the bird-watching hobby.
“It’s relaxing. It’s easy to do. It’s great for all ages,” he said. “It’s just another reason to get out in nature. You don’t have to go anywhere. You just have to step outside.”