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Great Backyard Bird Count begins Feb.12

Todd Burras
Outdoors Editor

A week from now will be Valentine’s Day weekend, and you can show wild birds some love by participating in the 24th-annual Great Backyard Bird Count.

The four-day citizen-science event begins Friday, Feb. 12, and continues through Monday, Feb. 15. Volunteers from around the world count the birds they see in their backyards, neighborhoods, parks, wild areas and cities for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count. Then, after setting up an account, they enter their checklists at www.birdcount.org.

This year’s count comes at a troubling time for bird lovers across the continent. Last fall, scientists from the United States and Canada released findings from a 50-year study that showed a nearly 30 percent loss of bird populations in North America.

Leading causes in the decline of birds, including many common backyard visitors, include loss of habitat, degradation of habitat, window collisions, exposure to toxic pesticides and predation by house and feral cats.

"Birds are important because they're excellent indicators of the health of our ecosystems,” said Chad Wilsey, interim chief scientist for the National Audubon Society, in a news release. “Participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count is one of the easiest and best ways to help scientists understand how our changing climate may be affecting the world’s birdlife.

“All over the world people are paying more attention to our environment and how it's changing. There’s a lot of bad news out there, but in just 15 minutes you can be part of a global solution to the crises birds and people are facing."

To learn more about how to take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, visit www.birdcount.org.

The nuthatches also reminded me that keeping an eye on backyard feeders and the birds that utilize them – even during slow times – is an activity birders of all skill levels are or will be taking part in as winter nears. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the American Bird Conservancy, Bird Studies Canada and the National Audubon Society, among others, are engaged in a number of citizen science projects that are always in need of more participants to collect valuable data for their research.

“Scientists use the (Great Backyard Bird) Counts, along with observations from other citizen-science projects, such as the Christmas Bird Count, Project FeederWatch and eBird, to give us an immense picture of our winter birds,” a news release from the Lab said. “Each year that these data are collected makes them more meaningful and allows scientists to investigate far-reaching questions.”

Besides the Cornell Lab, the citizen-science project is organized by the National Audubon Society and Bird Studies Canada with sponsorship from Wild Birds Unlimited.

Contributing data to the Great Backyard Count is one way people can take action to protect birds and the places where they live. Last year, 268,674 participants in 194 countries counted 27,270,156 birds, including 6,942 species. It’s simple, fun and easy to report the data, and participants can count for as little or as much time as they choose. The count’s website has been updated and can be found at www.birdcount.org.

Share in the Joy of Birds Webinar: Tuesday, Feb. 9, Noon eastern

Winter is a great time for watching birds close to home and we want to be a part of your excitement! In this webinar the Great Backyard Bird Count Project Coordinators from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Audubon, and Birds Canada will share amusing birdwatching stories and magical bird moments, as well as tips and tricks for how to participate in this year's bird count. Tune in for an hour of fun, information, and audience Q&A. Please register ahead of time at https://bit.ly/3tuHRx9.

Here’s another way to help support bird science.

As part of its “2021 Save the Songbirds” mission, the Ames Wild Birds Unlimited Nature Shop has been supporting the work of the Cornell Lab. In late 2019, the Lab released results from a joint 50-year study that revealed the planet’s birds are in trouble. Big trouble. In North America, for example, bird populations have plummeted nearly one-third in the last half-century.

As such, the local WBU is asking people to join the Lab for its basic annual membership of $44. Those who do will receive a free 10-pound bag of seed in a durable and attractive and durable Cornell Lab tote. Stop by the store at 213 Duff Ave. for more information and to sign up.

Todd Burras can be reached at outdoorstoddburras@gmail.com.