For all of us who enjoy watching the diversity of wild birds we have in our region, an upcoming event offers the opportunity to provide researchers with important information about bird distribution and populations.
The 2011 Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) will take place from Friday, Feb. 18, through Monday, Feb. 21. This annual event is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society.
GBBC participants are asked to count the various species of birds in their area and then submit an online checklist of those findings to the GBBC Web site, www.birdcount.org. Last year, bird enthusiasts from all 50 states and all Canadian provinces submitted more than 97,000 checklists that reported sightings of an amazing 603 species of birds.
In Pennsylvania, the dark-eyed junco, cardinal and tufted titmouse were the three species most often sighted during the 2010 GBBC, while the three most numerous species reported were Canada goose, dark-eyed junco and American crow.
To participate in the GBBC, you can count birds for as little as 15 minutes on a single day during the event or spend as much time counting as you want over several days. You may also count birds in several different places, from your backyard feeder to woodlands, fields or parks - anywhere wild birds are found. You will, however, need to submit a separate checklist for each new day and each new location where you count.
To keep the exercise manageable, counting every individual bird you see is not required, just the most individuals of a species that are sighted at one time during a counting session. For example, say you have a group of chickadees coming and going to your backyard feeder, but the most you observe there at one time is six of them, then that is the number you would record on your checklist for that viewing session.
One of the most important aspects of the GBBC is birders of any skill level can participate in this citizen-science project - even if you are not able to identify every bird you see - either as individuals or as a group. And the GBBC Web site hosts a wealth of information and online resources about the event and birding in general. In addition to all the instructions about participating in the GBBC, you can download a regional bird checklist, which lists all the birds that are likely in this area during February. There are even educator's materials available for teachers who might be interested in making participation in the GBBC a class science project.
While I'm on the subject of birding, I will pass on another superb resource I found recently. Like most bird enthusiasts, I have acquired a stack of field guides over the years that helped me become reasonably proficient at identifying the majority of the birds we're likely to see in this part of the world. I also enjoy just browsing these books to brush up on my bird-ID skills and to find species that I would like to add to my personal life list of birds sighted.
Last week, however, I found an electronic bird field guide that is nothing short of amazing, and if you are a birder who owns an iPhone or iPod Touch, it is well worth checking out. You can find it in the Apple App Store under iBird Explorer. There are several regional versions of iBird, including the one for our region, iBird Explorer North, which comprises information on more than 500 species of North American birds.
The promotional material for iBird Explorer says this app is the equivalent of having 4,000 pages of birding information right at your fingertips, and I don't believe that is an overstatement. For each of the hundreds of species covered, there are several drawings and photographs that include seasonal and juvenile plumages, range maps and more detailed information on specific habits and behavior than is available in any other field guide I've seen. The most amazing feature of iBird is it also includes live recordings of the calls and songs of every bird. This resource alone makes the app more than worth the price to me.
Even better, all the iBird apps are on sale for 50 percent off right. That makes iBird Explorer North a very reasonable $4.99, and iBird Explorer Pro, which covers all of the more than 900 species in North America, is $14.99. And if you would like to take a test drive, there is even a free version called iBird Lite, which includes 30 species and will give you an idea how the app works in practice.