This juvenile female sapsucker has been an unusual visitor to Dave Curry’s Arbovale feeder this winter.  These birds usually winter much further south. Photo courtesy of Dave Curry
This juvenile female sapsucker has been an unusual visitor to Dave Curry’s Arbovale feeder this winter.  These birds usually winter much further south. Photo courtesy of Dave Curry

It’s that time again. A time when you get to be a scientist, collect valuable data in real time, and then submit that data into a huge, international data base sponsored by a large, well-respected university. So, get out the white lab coat and dust off the microscope. Get out the safety goggles and Bunsen burners. Fire up the calculators and computers and …
Wait, wait, wait. We don’t need all that. All we need is pencil and paper. It’s time for the Great Backyard Bird Count sponsored by Cornell University, and it starts February 12 and runs through the weekend.
Anyone with an interest in birds can join in. All you need to do is list and count the birds you see. This can be at a bird feeder at your home or take a walk out in the woods or down by the lake or Greenbrier River. Watch for as little as 15 minutes or hike all day long. Identify and count the birds you may see, then submit that information to the network.
To participate this weekend, go to http://www.bird count.org on your home or school computer, sign up and join in the fun. Then check out the “how to” slide show. If you are wondering what birds you may see, look under the “toolkit” for the “Bird List.” It will ask you for your zip code and then provide a list of possible birds that you may see in your area. Print that list if you want, and you are ready to begin.
For identification help, go to http://www.enature.com for the field guides or see http://www.allaboutbirds.org. Also, Cornell has several free bird ID apps that can be downloaded to a smartphone.
Last year nearly 148,000 checklists were submitted from more than 100 countries – including several participants from Pocahontas County – and approximately 5,100 species of birds were recorded.
Cornell Labs, along with National Audubon and Bird Studies Canada, have sponsored the GBBC since 1998 and it seems to grow every year.
So, what do the bird experts expect to learn?
All the data collected will continue to fill in the world-wide baseline and allow birders to understand shifts in migrations, declines in populations and project long-term trends.
Will global warming have an effect on birds? What about El Nino? Are some bird species headed toward extinction? Why? Your data and participation may help scientists grappling with those questions.
As this is written, a large flock of robins is working its way through my back yard in Arbovale, unusual for February but then the weather has been overall mild. My feeder has been deluged with pine siskens this winter in numbers that I have never seen before. The white throat sparrows and the house finches have been conspicuous by their absence. But the one new bird at the feeder this winter has been the Yellow Bellied Sapsucker. They don’t normally winter here and I have never seen them before. But at least one older female sapsucker has been a daily visitor.
Bird populations are dynamic and constantly changing. Don’t miss out on your chance to accomplish some valuable Citizens science. Get the kids, scouts, 4-H club involved. It is a great way to have fun and learn at the same time.
Dave is a telescope operator at the Green Bank Observatory and may be contacted at davecurry51@gmail.com