The sixth annual Great Backyard Bird Count is scheduled for Presidents Day Weekend, Feb. 14-17.
A joint project of National Audubon Society and Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, it offers a winter snapshot of the status of birds across North America.
Families, individuals, classrooms and community groups are invited to count the numbers and kinds of birds that visit their feeders, local parks, schoolyards and other areas during any or all of the four count days.
Counts are submitted online at www.birdsource.org/gbbc. The site includes detailed but easy to follow directions before beginning the count, and a place to submit sightings. Results can be explored by state or province, a region of the continent, or all of North America.
There's no fee or registration. Volunteers of every age and skill level are invited to participate.
The cumulative results can help shed new light on numbers and movements of various species, and how well they are faring in with challenges from loss of habitat to introduced predators to diseases such as the West Nile Virus. Data becomes more and more valuable with each year that the information is compiled. It complements data collected from the annual Christmas Bird Count and other counts such as Project Feederwatch.
Participants are asked to pay special attention to the more than 200 species on the Audubon 2002 WatchList, which lists North American birds in danger or decline. WatchList is an early warning system designed to raise awareness of birds in trouble before they become endangered or threatened.
To learn which WatchList birds might be seen in Alaska, go to "submit your bird checklist" on the Web site, then click on Alaska. WatchList birds are printed in red.
The backyard bird count also will focus on the effects of West Nile Virus on crows and jays, owls, raptors and other birds.
Begun in 1998, the backyard bird count has engaged more than a quarter-million Americans of all ages and backgrounds in the effort to keep common birds common. In 2002, more than 47,000 participants counted millions of birds throughout North America, helping reveal information on evening grosbeaks, snowy owls, collared doves and many other birds.
In addition to providing instructions and tallying results of the count, the Web site includes bird-watching and bird-feeding tips, bird vocalizations, suggestions and aids for teachers, and for the winter-weary, tips about planning and preparing for the spring bird garden. It also includes results from previous years.