The Great Backyard Bird Count begins

The Great Backyard Bird Count begins

If you’ve never quite understood the point of bird watching, think again. Here’s your chance to take part in a massive citizen science project underway this weekend, and you only have to commit 15 minutes of your time. More than 100,000 people around the world participate in providing valuable data that helps scientists track the distribution, diversity and abundance of birds. It’s a great educational experience for kids and adults alike. And you can make a valuable contribution without even leaving your own backyard.

Get started by reading the simple instructions at For those who have not tried bird identification before, I have a few tips to make this experience more rewarding and less frustrating:

  • Park yourself by a bird feeder. If you don’t have one, scatter some seed, put out some orange slices or hang a peanut butter pine cone in a tree. Do anything you can to bring the birds to you.
  • Blend into the scenery. I usually sit indoors in a chair and look at the window. Standing up makes you more noticeable. Try not to move around a lot.
  • Wait for favorable weather. Do you like going out in a gale, subzero temperatures or pouring rain? The birds probably won’t like it much either.
  • Keep a bird book or bird website handy. Some birds are easy to identify, but many are not. Take note of as many identifying features as you can and write them down. Get a closer look with binoculars if you have a pair. Then look up the possibilities.
  • Look for pairs. Many birds travel in pairs, and odds are if you see one, you are bound to find the other nearby. Familiarize yourself with the differences between males and females.
  • Remember you have to count the birds all at once! If you see a male cardinal at the feeder, and then see one again 5 minutes later, it could be the same bird. Identify the first bird and then look around quickly to see if you can find multiple male cardinals at the same time.
  • Check other areas besides your feeder. Some birds prefer to feed on the ground under a feeder. Some climb up and down tree trunks. Some won’t come anywhere near a feeder, but can be easily spotted on the lawn. If you have a group of bird watchers, give everyone different duties.
  • If you’re not seeing much, take a break. You can always quit after 15 minutes, and come back at another time of day that might be more fruitful. Don’t force yourself to sit for an hour if the time isn’t paying off.

The Great Backyard Bird Count lasts through Feb. 18. Good luck in your bird watching, and let me know if you find anything interesting!

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