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Annual Backyard Bird Count begins Feb. 14 | Kitsap Week

Kathy Swartz caught this sight of an Evening Grosbeak. - Kathy Swartz photo
Kathy Swartz caught this sight of an Evening Grosbeak.
— image credit: Kathy Swartz photo

By GENE BULLOCK

If your family enjoys watching birds at your backyard feeders — or anywhere else, for that matter — the Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual event you’re sure to enjoy.

This four-day event engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are.

The 17th annual bird count (www.birdcount.org) starts Feb. 14 and continues through Feb. 17. Everyone is welcome to participate, from beginning bird watchers to experts.

It takes as little as 15 minutes on one day, or you can count for as long as you like each day of the event. It’s free, fun, and easy — and it helps the birds.

A joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, the four-day count receives sightings from 11 countries. The count went global in 2013, receiving nearly 139,000 reports on more than 4,000 species (about 39 percent of the worldwide total of 10,240 species). In 2013, participants reported a total count of more than 34.5 million birds.

Why count birds?

Scientists and bird enthusiasts can learn a lot by knowing where the birds are. Bird populations are dynamic; they are constantly in flux. No single scientist or team of scientists could hope to document and understand the complex distribution and movements of so many species in such a short time.

Scientists use the Great Backyard Bird Count information — along with observations from other citizen-science projects, such as the National Audubon Christmas Bird Count, Project FeederWatch, and eBird — to get the “big picture” about what is happening to bird populations. The longer the data is collected, the more meaningful it becomes in helping scientists investigate far-reaching questions, such as migration trends, distribution and changes in habitat.

Participating is easy. Simply watch birds for at least 15 minutes at the location of your choice on one or more of the count days. Estimate the number of birds you see for each species you can identify. You’ll select your location on a map, answer a few questions, enter your tallies, and then submit your data to share your sightings with others around the world.

National Audubon (www.birds.audubon.org/birdID) and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology (www.allaboutbirds.org) both offer online bird guides to help you identify the birds you see and listen to their calls.

— Gene Bullock is editor of the Kitsap Audubon Society newsletter, The Kingfisher. Contact him at genebullock@comcast.net

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