Bird populations are dynamic; they are constantly in flux. Scientists and bird enthusiasts can learn a lot by knowing where the birds are.
The Great Backyard Bird Count, a joint project of National Audubon Society and Cornell Lab of Ornithology, takes a snapshot of North American bird populations.
When you participate you help take that big picture, whether you identify, count and report five species coming to your backyard feeder or 75 species during a day's outing to a wildlife refuge.
It's fun, easy and is a nationwide effort.
I am a longtime fan of the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology Web site at www.birds.cornell.edu/. It has lots of different projects you can join, but one of the easiest is to contribute to the Great Backyard Bird Count. You can see results as soon as you add your data. This year the count dates are Feb. 15-18.
It really can't be much simpler. All you do is look out your window at a bird feeder or take a short walk (within a mile of your home or neighborhood) and keep a tally of the most birds you see of any species at one time.
You can count in as many different locations as you wish; just make sure to keep separate records and fill out a checklist for each area. Watch the birds for at least 15 minutes on each day that you participate - a half-hour or more is even better.
Be careful not to count the same bird more than once. For example, don't add another Steller's jay to your tally every time you see one at the feeder. You could be counting the same bird over and over. If you record only the highest number of individual birds that you see in view at one time, you're sure to never count the same bird more than once.
After you have your data, taken any time during the four-day period (or every day), you can log onto on the GBBC Web site, at www.birdsource.org/gbbc. Fill out the questions about your location, local habitat and count duration. Then enter your high counts for each species sighted on that day and location. You can submit one bird checklist for each day that you count or for each new area that you count in.
The fun starts as you get to see the species lists and numbers of birds observed updated in front of your eyes. They have maps of all the locations where the data was collected and all the species. Last year Juneau was in the top 10 locations for species, but places like Sitka, Cordova and Kodiak saw more.
This is your chance to contribute information to a nationwide study and enjoy our birds that stick it out with us through all our seasons. If you do not have easy Internet access you can always mail your information, or share it with the Juneau Audubon chapter. Everything we see helps to understand our most common birds.
Your data can help answer many questions. How will this winter's snow and cold temperatures influence bird populations? Where are the winter finches and other irruptive species?
Will late winter movements of many songbird and waterfowl species be as far north as they were last year?
The data that you collect will be combined with Christmas Bird Count and Project FeederWatch data to give an immense picture of our winter birds. Each year that these data are collected makes them more important and meaningful. So as coordinators see patterns, discover new questions and insights, you'll be updated as well.
Some species you're apt to see in Southeast backyards, depending on where you live, according to birder Paul Suchanek, include chestnut-backed chickadee, Steller's jay, dark-eyed junco (both Oregon and slate-colored), red-breasted nuthatch, song sparrow, northwestern crow, pine siskin and black-billed magpie.
Possible but less likely sightings include hairy woodpecker, downy woodpecker, northern flicker, fox sparrow, golden-crowned sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, Lincoln's sparrow, rusty blackbird, common redpoll, varied thrush, black-capped chickadee, red crossbill, brown creeper and American tree sparrow.
Brenda Wright is vice president of Juneau Audubon Society. Kim and Barb Turley will present a slide show of their birding adventures in Gambell, Nome and the Pribilofs at the monthly meeting of Juneau Audubon Society, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 14, in the Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School library.