Big day for bird loves is coming up

Almost anything to do with the history and traditions of Pennsylvania interests me greatly, but Groundhog Day is one notable exception to that fascination.

I’m not sure how that silly bit folklore started or why it has persisted into more enlightened times, other than it might be a testament to how long and boring the winters were in northcentral Pennsylvania. Rather than pretend some captive rodent can predict weather patterns, I much prefer to cope with the midwinter blues by engaging in something more grounded in reality.

One such diversion would be the 2012 Great Backyard Bird Count that will take place from Friday, Feb. 15, through Monday, Feb. 18. This year marks the 16th installment of this annual volunteer event, which is a joint effort of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. Birders of every skill level can participate in this important citizen-science project either as individuals or as a group – even if you are not able to identify every bird you see.

GBBC participants count the various species of birds in their area and then submit an online checklist of those findings to the group’s website, How much time spent counting is flexible and left to the discretion of each individual participant.

To participate in the event, you can observe 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.

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.

One of the most worthwhile aspects of the project is it offers anyone who enjoys wild birds the opportunity to provide researchers with important information about bird distribution and populations.

Conducting the event in February gives scientists a remarkable snapshot of wild bird populations throughout North America. Among other things, those data provide information about winter survival and where many species are located prior to the spring migrations that will commence in the coming weeks.

During the 2012 event, bird enthusiasts from every state and Canadian province submitted more than 104,000 checklists that reported sightings of 17.4 million birds, comprising more than 600 different species.

In Pennsylvania, the northern cardinal, mourning dove, dark-eyed junco, tufted titmouse and downy woodpecker were the five species most often sighted during the 2012 GBBC, while the five most numerous species reported were snow goose, Canada goose, European starling, common grackle and red-winged blackbird.

The group’s website provides a wealth of information and online resources about the event and birding in general. In addition to all the instructions about participating in it, you can download a regional bird checklist, which lists all the birds that are likely in this area during February. There are even educational materials available for teachers who might be interested in making participation in the GBBC a class science project.

Many casual birdwatchers I talk with are often surprised to learn that here in Pennsylvania the Pennsylvania Game Commission is the agency responsible for the management of all species of wild birds – not just ducks, turkeys, grouse and other game birds.

To provide more information about all those other birds so many folks enjoy, the Game Commission recently updated their website – – to include an expanded “Birding and Bird Conservation Section.” To find all this new information, click on “Wildlife” in the top navigation bar of the homepage, and select “Birding/Bird Conservation” in the dropdown menu.

“We’ve taken substantial steps on these pages to acquaint more Pennsylvanians with the state’s wild birds and the agency’s role in bird conservation, both within the Commonwealth’s borders and internationally,” Dan Brauning, supervisor of the Game Commission’s Wildlife Diversity Division, said. “This content will help more people see the value of wild birds, and get them closer to birds. It also offers ways to get involved in bird conservation and to make your property safer and more attractive to birds.”