The 2014 Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) takes place from Friday, February 14 through Monday, February 17. Each year, volunteers tally the birds they see in backyards, parks and natural areas. In 2013, participants from all seven continents reported more than 4,000 species, documenting 39 percent of the world’s bird species in just four days! Counting birds during GBBC helps scientists gain a snapshot of how bird populations are changing. Some interesting stories from the 2013 North American count include:
Massive flocks spotted in Missouri. Observers at Mark Youngdahl Urban Conservation Area in St. Joseph, Missouri, reported the largest flock with an estimated 5 million Red-winged Blackbirds and 1.5 million American Robins. The second largest flock was also spotted in Missouri – between 700,000 and 1.1 million Snow Geese at Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge.
Cedar Waxwings missing from the Northeast. A common species, Cedar Waxwings were tallied in low numbers in northeastern North America during the 2013 count. Where did they go? Scientists think that a lack of winter fruit to support birds in the northeastern region meant that a large number of them headed to their core winter range along the Gulf Coast. Tallies from the Gulf Coast showed large numbers of Cedar Waxwings.
Winter ranges shifting for some birds, especially insect-eaters. One example is the Northern Rough-winged Swallow. The bird typically winters in Mexico and Central America, but has recently established winter populations in new areas, including Atlanta, New Haven and Philadelphia. Some of the new populations have been found near sewage plants. Why? Warm wastewater attracts flying insect food sources which, along with warmer winters, are allowing the birds to survive.
Snowy Owls concentrated in the Northwest. Most birds were reported in Canada, but some also showed up in Washington, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ontario in 2013. This year, snowy owls have been spotted along the East Coast which should make for interesting counts.
Viewer Tip: Collecting all this data would be impossible without the help of volunteers. Anyone can participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count by tallying birds for at least 15 minutes on any day of the count. Simple instructions for counting and reporting birds are available at birdsource.org. You can also find regional bird checklists, photo galleries, resources for kids and more!
Read more bird, weather and environment tips at Earth Gauge.
GBBC is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Audubon and Bird Studies Canada.
Snowy Owl image courtesy of Diane McAllister via Great Backyard Bird Count.