The 14th annual Great Backyard Bird Count takes place Friday through Feb. 21. A joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the National Audubon Society and Bird Studies Canada, this popular citizen science project is a great opportunity for all to become scientists for the weekend.
Begun in 1998, the count enlists birders of all skill levels in an effort to keep common birds common. Last year "citizen scientists" taking part in the count turned in a record 97,331 checklists reporting a total of 603 species consisting of about 11.2 million individual birds.
The Top 5 most frequently reported species were northern cardinal, dark-eyed junco, mourning dove, downy woodpecker and blue jay. The most numerous bird nationwide was the American robin. Counters tabulated 1,850,427 robins. Most of those -- 1,450,058 -- were counted at a huge roost in St. Petersburg, Fla. Observations such as these demonstrate that the count provides a valuable snapshot of where birds are in midwinter.
Pennsylvania ranked fourth in the number of checklists submitted with 4,878 and tallied 132 species. Southern states, as might be expected, reported the most species. Texas came in at 347 species, followed by California (319), Florida (277) and Arizona (231). Pittsburgh counters reported 52 species; American crows, at 2,392, were the most numerous.
Anyone can participate in the count, and it's free. Participants count birds for as little as 15 minutes or as long as they wish on one or more days of the event and report their sightings online. Results are updated hourly on animated maps and colorful graphs for all to view. The nearly instant feedback allows participants to see almost immediately how their observations fit into the continental perspective.
To see some of the best photos submitted from past counts, visit www.birdsource.org/gbbc/gallery. The website includes other useful birding information -- vocabulary, photos, birdwatching tips and vocalization. The count is a terrific way to contribute to a better understanding of birds.
For more information about the count or the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, contact the lab at 159 Sapsucker Woods Road, Ithaca, NY 14850, www.birdcount.org or 1-800-843-2473.
Scott Shalaway is a biologist and author. His other weekly Post-Gazette column, "Wildlife," runs Sundays on the outdoors page in Sports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or RD 5, Cameron, WV 26033.