You can take part in helping scientists from around the world collect data by counting birds, and you don’t even have to leave your yard. All you need are a pair of binoculars and a comfortable place to sit.
The Great Backyard Bird Count will take place this year from Feb. 12-15.
The idea is to literally count the birds you see to help researchers create a real-time snapshot of bird populations.
You can count birds for as little as 15 minutes — or longer — on one or more days of the four-day event, and report your sightings online at birdcount.org. You can count in your backyard or wherever you happen to be.
There's even an app — eBird — that can help. eBird is one of the world’s largest nature databases with more than 100 million bird sightings contributed each year and used by professionals for science and conservation by citizen scientists.
The Great Backyard Bird Count can help conservationists detect long-term trends in bird populations. Some species, including several winter finches, explode in population in certain years (known as irruption). Other species change migration paths or dates due to weather.
Katie Percy, avian biologist with Audubon Louisiana and programs chairwoman for the Baton Rouge Audubon Society, said information collected from all counts, such as the Christmas Bird Count, Great Backyard Bird Count and Breeding Bird Survey, is also crucial for scientists to use to compile data that can influence public policy for protecting birds and their habitats.
“Data from these studies are what scientists have largely been using to help project how each species’ range has shifted as a result of climate change and other human impacts,” Percy said.
Jane Patterson, president of BRAS, said because Louisiana is located on the largest river in North America — the Mississippi — the birds use it as a physical landmark to make their migration. This makes Louisiana a great place to bird watch.
“Birding is not just about the feeders,” she said. “Once you start being aware of birds, you’ll see them in the trees, shrubs and grasses nearby, as well.”
Common backyard birds that live in Louisiana year-round include cardinals, blue jays, warblers, Carolina wrens, Carolina chickadees, tufted titmouse and red-bellied and downy woodpeckers.
For successful bird watching, Patterson recommends a pair of 8-by-42 binoculars. A point-and-shoot camera with a zoom feature is a great tool to help with identification.
“I recommend buying binoculars with a lifetime warranty," she said. "This will ensure a good quality and protect your investment, for your lifetime.”
Great bird identification guides recommended by Patterson include the Audubon Bird Guide App, a free field guide to over 800 species of North America, eBird Pro and Sibley. The free Merlin Bird ID App, sponsored by Cornell Lab, is another good one.
“I highly recommend Merlin. This app can use a description or a photo to help you identify a bird, which is very useful to new birders,” she said.
Patterson said to consider purchasing a field guide with the birds by classification — not by color.
“Birds have changed their range over the last decade, so you’ll want one with recent information,” she said.
National Geographic, Sibley, Peterson, and Kaufman are all guides well-respected by birders.
How to count birds
For a stationary count, such as in a yard, record only the largest number of a particular type of bird seen at one time. For example, you might see a Carolina chickadee come to a feeder six times while you’re watching, but the most chickadees you see at any given time is two: your count is two.
For more guidance on counting birds, visit //ebird.org/news/counting-101/
Louisiana Master Naturalists of Greater Baton Rouge seeks to advance awareness, understanding and stewardship of the natural environment. For more information, email email@example.com.