I was walking in Morris Plains one recent mild afternoon after our most recent snowstorm. Although warmer temperatures melted a lot of it down, much of the white stuff still covered the lawns.
And yet, birds were singing – house finches suddenly joining the chorus of redbellied woodpeckers, chickadees and titmice. They are sensing the worst of winter is over and spring is coming. Soon, the chorus will get larger.
Somehow, as I was looking ahead to this, I remembered the Great Backyard Bird Count.
Now, if there is one part of birding I do not like it is counting. I’ll note what I see but I am not very good about reporting exactly what day and how many I saw of something in particular. When someone reports they've seen 258 herring gulls somewhere, I can't believe he or she was standing there and counting one, two, three, four...
However, I enjoy this annual counting of what birds and how many I see at my feeder. The count is co-sponsored by the national Audubon (New Jersey Audubon is a separate group and not involved directly) and the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology. It is held every Presidents Day weekend, which means the 2013 count begins this Friday and lasts through Monday.
What you do is simple – you note the types of birds you see in a particular area and how many of them there are in 15-minute increments. You can look at what comes to your feeder or you can travel to a location and count what you see there. Then you go to the count website and type in your findings. You can submit checklists for any and all of the count days.
On the site you can look at last year’s data, see which states had the most of a particular kind of bird (or filed the most checklists) and find photos, ways for kids to get involved, maps and even a Twitter feed. Yes, the count is on Facebook and no, there is no fee.
The aim is to aid science. By contributing an accurate count, you are telling the bird experts at Cornell which birds are the most common and not in danger of extinction and which are declining in numbers. According to the count website, “GBBC participants submitted a record-smashing 104,151 checklists with 17.4 million individual bird observations. Participants set new checklist records in 22 states and in 6 Canadian provinces. Across the continent and in Hawaii, participants identified 623 species.”
That's a lot of birds.
Participants reported the northern cardinal on more checklists than any other species for the eighth straight year. I recorded them on my checklists and was happy to do so since cardinals are one of my favorite birds. Learning the number two bird was the mourning dove was no surprise because these seem to be everywhere I look, sometimes outnumbering its cousin the pigeon.
The most numerous bird reported during this year’s count was the snow goose, which is surprising if you live in an areas like northern New Jersey where the larger Canada geese foul town parks and corporate office campuses.
So whether you're a kid or an adult, when you are running around this Presidents Day weekend look around you and note the time and location of what birds you see, especially how many. Then go to the count site and record it.
Even counter-phobes like me will be doing the same.