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Backyard Bird Count begins next week

Posted: Friday, February 11, 2011

JUNEAU — Local bird enthusiasts and those from across the continent will be counting birds of all shapes on sizes from Friday, Feb. 18 through Monday, Feb. 21 as part of this year’s Great Backyard Bird Count.

The event aims to create what organizers have called a “an instantaneous snapshot of birdlife across the U.S. and Canada for all to see.”

Anyone can help by tallying birds for at least 15 minutes on any day of the count. Participants can enter the highest number of each species seen at any one time online and watch as the tallies grow across the continent. Coordinated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Audubon and Bird Studies Canada, the four-day count typically records more than 10 million observations.

Locally, last year’s participants reported a total of 6,741 individual bird sightings in Auke Bay, Juneau and Douglas. In Alaska, participants reported seeing a total of 42,480 individual birds. Species with the highest tallies included the rock sandpiper, mallard, glaucous-winged gull, dunlin, common redpoll, surf scoter and marbled murrelet — to name a few. A few locally unique sightings, based on numbers, were the northern pygmy owl, horned grebe, pigeon guillemot and northern shrike, which is a predatory songbird.

“Whether people observe birds in backyards, parks, or wilderness areas, the Great Backyard Bird Count is an opportunity to share their results with other participants,” said Judy Braus, Audubon’s vice president of Education and Centers. “(Plus,) it gets people outside.”

“You have this huge amount of information from all over the hemisphere (and) having all that information together (in one spot) is a really powerful tool,” Beth Peluso, communications manager for Audubon Alaska, said. “It’s a really easy way for people to participate. Just look up a species or find the corresponding map and you’re able to see data compiled by residents all over Alaska.”

Participants can add their own sightings, too. This helps analysts identify trends and compile more accurate historical data, Peluso said. To do so, just go online to birdsource.org/gbbc and click on the “submit your bird checklist” link. From there participants can download a blank form and follow the directions to get pointed in the right
direction.

Past GBBC counts showed a drop in reports of American crows since 2003, coincident with some of the first widespread outbreaks of West Nile virus in the U.S. Once ranked among the top four or five most frequently reported species, crows are still among the top 10 birds reported in the Great Backyard Bird Count but they have dropped in ranking since 2003. This “signal” is consistent with data from the more intensive Breeding Bird Survey, as well as studies demonstrating declines of 50 to 75 percent in crow populations in some states after outbreaks of West Nile virus.

Maps from the count have also captured the paths of migrating sandhill cranes and recorded the dramatic spread Eurasian collared doves. Introduced to the Bahamas in the 1970s, the species was reported in just eight states during the 1999 GBBC. A decade later, it was reported in 39 states and Canadian
provinces.

For more information, including bird-ID tips, instructions, and past results, visit www.birdcount.org. The count also includes a photo contest and a prize drawing for participants who enter their bird checklists online.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is made possible in part by sponsor Wild Birds Unlimited.



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