Each year, the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) takes place across North America. You can find a regional tally sheet at gbbc.birdsource.org/gbbcApps/checklist that will include birds typically seen in Richmond County in February.
Pat Leonard, GBBC coordinator for Cornell University lab of Ornithology, said, “North Carolina has always done really great in terms of checklists. The Northern Cardinal was the most spotted, and the goldfinch had the most numbers.”
Leonard said Charlotte, Cary and Raleigh filed the most reports last year. North Carolina ranked in the top three for participation out of the project, which spans from Canada to Hawaii. This is the project’s 14th year. Last year, North Carolina birders increased their records from the previous year, submitting 5,047 checklists compared to 4,764 in 2009. The state finished third among all states for most checklists submitted and sixth among states reporting the most birds.
“They really love it,” said Leonard about North Carolinians. “They really take it to heart.”
Participants will count birds at any location for at least 15 minutes or more, and write down the highest number of each species you see together at any one time, so you don’t count the same bird twice. For example; if you see eight cardinals as you start counting, then later you see 12, then again later you see three, you’ll only report 12. Don’t add the numbers together or you’ll project false results.
“There’s no way to study these species’s movement over the continent without the power of the people,” said Leonard. “All the information goes into a huge database called the Avian Knowledge Network. About 36 organizations submit data. There are millions of reports of raw data there that anyone can use.”
This data is for the birds. Because this research has been conducted for over a decade, researchers can go back and look at “before and after” situations, and can see many changes. They can see if certain bird species have changed their range, if they are showing up in different states than before, if there have been changes in migration patterns or how population trends change.
Some may think the data could help scientists unravel the mysterious mass deaths that have happened in pockets over the past few months, but Leonard has a different response.
“In the overall scheme of things, hundreds of thousands of birds die each day across the continent,” said Leonard. She said although the mass deaths were tragic and thousands of birds died at once, it’s not as alarming as how many die from flying into buildings or losing habitat.
The GBBC lasts until Monday, but participants have until March 1 to fill out their reports. Even though it’s called the Backyard bird count, it can be conducted anywhere.
“Richmond County is pretty high up there as destinations in the state for bird watching,” said Jeff Marcus, Piedmont Wildlife Diversity Supervisor. “(GBBC) is an excellent opportunity for the average citizen to contribute to conservation. There are many different bird watching groups that travel to Richmond County; it’s one of the better bird watching locations we have, between the longleaf pine and the Pee Dee River corridor.”
Scientists conduct this survey-based research during February because it gives them a snapshot of how birds are surviving the winter and where they are located just before spring migrations begin in March. Scientists combine the research with date from other surveys conducted at different times in the year. If four days wasn’t enough notice, or you missed the date, you can still submit the same kind of data at eBird.org.
eBird.org features complete data on most any North American bird, and at the beginning of the month they shared an animation they created based on the data. The animated map shows in color where a certain population of birds is concentrated between January and December.
Once you have collected your data, head to the website birdsource.org and click on the “submit your checklists” button. You’ll be required to enter the location where you counted birds, as well as information about conditions like snow-cover or other weather-related information.
If you want to go someplace other than your backyard, the Pee Dee Wildlife Refuge opens its doors to bird watchers from all over.
Greg Walmsley, Refuge Assistant Manager, said their habitat is unique and diverse, creating one of the best places in the state to view birds. He said an Audubon group will be coming out to the refuge today to see birds, and that many groups come.
“We have a count circle here at the refuge,” said Walmsley. “We’ve got all the wintering birds, migrant nesters like warblers and songbirds. We have about 3,500 acres of bottom-land hardwood which is unique for this state. We have land on both sides of the Pee Dee River, and about 400 or 500 acres of wetlands and flooded fields for waterfowl. We were established in the 60’s as a waterfowl sanctuary.”
He said they conduct bird surveys on waterfowl every two weeks in the winter.
“(The refuge) is doing really well,” said Walmsley. “The quality of habitat seems to attract less common birds.”
For more information on how to contribute to the Great Backyard Bird Count, visit www.birdsource.org. For recommended bird watching locations visit www.ncbirdingtrail.org.
Staff Writer Dawn Kurry can be reached at (910) 997-3111 ex. 43, or by e-mail at email@example.com.