For The Birds

Anyone can help with national count program

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Tom Brossart photo

The National Audubon Society involves tens of thousands of volunteers in an annual outdoor adventure known as the Christmas Bird Count.

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Tom Brossart photo

The National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count is the longest-running wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations.

photo

Tom Brossart photo

The Payson Birders invite anyone interested in bird watching to attend one of their meetings. The next will be at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 7 at the Payson Public Library.

Bird lovers can enjoy migration events in their own backyards. In fact, it is something that is encouraged through a number of national programs.

Project FeederWatch is taking place now through April 3, 2009. The 109th Christmas Bird Count is now through Monday, Jan. 5, 2009. Later, from Feb. 23 through Feb. 16, 2009, the Great Backyard Bird Count will be held.

Project Feeder Watch

Bird watchers in Arizona are seeing big changes, and they don’t even need to leave home to notice new species in their yards. The Eurasian Collared-Dove, a large tan bird with a black ring or “collar” on the neck, is rapidly colonizing North America, and Arizona is on the front lines of this invasion. Scientists are asking Arizona bird watchers to help track these and other changes at their feeders by participating in Project FeederWatch.

“FeederWatch is fun and easy,” says project leader David Bonter from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “While you’re enjoying the birds, take a few minutes to count and record them.”

Last winter, 30 percent of FeederWatch participants in Arizona recorded the invasive Eurasian Collared-Dove at their feeders. The species was rarely detected as recently as five years ago.

“We need to hear from more bird watchers in Arizona to get an accurate picture of what’s happening with bird populations from year to year,” says Bonter.

Participants can sign up at any time. FeederWatchers track the numbers and kinds of birds seen at feeders each week and then send the information to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The information they provide helps generate the world’s largest database on feeder-bird populations.

“Scientists learn something new from the project each year,” says Bonter.

“Whether it’s about the movements of common backyard birds or unusual sightings of rarely seen species. Will the Eurasian Collared-Dove have an impact on populations of native doves? Scientists need information from throughout the state to help answer the question, and anyone who sees birds at feeders can help.”

FeederWatchers across North America submitted more than 115,000 checklists during the 2007-08 season, documenting unusual bird sightings, winter movements, and shifting ranges — all of it information scientists use to monitor the health of the birds and of the environment.

To learn more and to sign up, visit www.feederwatch.org or call (800) 843-2473. In return for the $15 fee ($12 for Lab members) participants receive the FeederWatcher’s Handbook, a bird-identification poster, a calendar, instructions, and the FeederWatch annual report, Winter Bird Highlights, a summary of the season’s findings.

109th Christmas Bird Count

The National Audubon Society involves tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the Americas from Dec. 14, 2008 through Jan. 5, 2009 in an adventure that has become a family tradition among generations. Families and students, birders and scientists, armed with binoculars, bird guides and checklists will head out on an annual mission — often before dawn. For more than 100 years, the desire to both make a difference and to experience the beauty of nature has driven dedicated people to leave the comfort of a warm house in the middle of winter.

Each of the citizen scientists who brave snow, wind, or rain, to take part in the Christmas Bird Count make an enormous contribution to conservation. Audubon and other organizations use data collected in this longest-running wildlife census to assess the health of bird populations — and to help guide conservation action.

From feeder-watchers and field observers to count compilers and regional editors, everyone who takes part in the Christmas Bird Count does it for love of birds and the excitement of friendly competition — and with the knowledge that their efforts are making a difference for science and bird conservation. Find out how to get involved.

Since the Christmas Bird Count began more than a century ago, it has relied on the dedication and commitment of volunteer citizen scientists.

The Christmas Bird Count season is Dec. 14 through Jan. 5 each year. Local counts will occur on one day between those inclusive dates. If an area has more than one local count, it will probably be conducted on different dates within the CBC season. Participants can pick the most convenient date, or be involved in more than one count. Go online now to find upcoming count dates

There is a specific methodology to the CBC, but everyone can participate. The count takes place within “Count Circles,” which focus on specific geographical areas. Each circle is led by a Count Compiler. Therefore, beginning birders will be able to join a group that includes at least one experienced birdwatcher. In addition, if a participant’s home is within the boundaries of a Count Circle, then they can stay home and report the birds that visit their feeder or join a group of birdwatchers in the field. In either case, new participants’ first step is to locate and contact the local Count Compiler to find out how to volunteer.

To find the nearest Count Compiler, go online to www.audubon.org/bird/cbc. At the site those interested can also find the posted date of a count not yet conducted near them, as well as additional information.

Great Backyard Bird Count

The Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual four-day event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the continent. Anyone can participate, from beginning bird watchers to experts. It takes as little as 15 minutes on one day, or participants can count for as long as they like each day of the event. It’s free, fun, and easy — and it helps the birds.

Participants count birds anywhere for as little or as long as they wish during the four-day period. They tally the highest number of birds of each species seen together at any one time. To report their counts, they fill out an online checklist at the Great Backyard Bird Count Web site.

As the count progresses, anyone with Internet access can explore what is being reported from their own towns or anywhere in the United States and Canada. They can also see how this year’s numbers compare with those from previous years. Participants may also send in photographs of the birds they see. A selection of images is posted in the online photo gallery.

In 2008, participants reported more than 9.8 million birds of 635 species. They submitted more than 85,000 checklists, an all-time record for the count.

Scientists and bird enthusiasts can learn a lot by knowing where the birds are. Bird populations are dynamic and are constantly in flux. No single scientist or team of scientists could hope to document the complex distribution and movements of so many species in such a short time.

Participant counts can help us answer many questions:

• How will this winter’s snow and cold temperatures influence bird populations?

• Where are winter finches and other “irruptive” species that appear in large numbers during some years but not others?

• How will the timing of birds’ migrations compare with past years?

• How are bird diseases, such as West Nile virus, affecting birds in different regions?

• What kinds of differences in bird diversity are apparent in cities versus suburban, rural, and natural areas?

• Are any birds undergoing worrisome declines that point to the need for conservation attention?

Scientists use the counts, along with observations from other citizen-science projects to give us an immense picture of our winter birds. Each year that these data are collected makes them more meaningful and allows scientists to investigate far-reaching questions.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is led by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, with sponsorship from Wild Birds Unlimited.

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