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Birding for Science During the Great Backyard Bird Count

February 12, 2015

This post is brought to you by Sehdia Mansaray, intern at Prairie Ridge this fall.  She is a student at NC State University.  Thanks Sehdia!

Carolina ChickadeeEvery day, billions of people around the world tune themselves into the song and flight of birds. Citizen science projects such as NestWatch, Project FeederWatch, and eBird allow people to take their passion for birds and turn it into valuable scientific data. The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is one global citizen science project that takes place annually during the month of February. This year, the GBBC will take place Friday, February 13, through Monday, February 16.  During the event, participants gather data by counting the number of birds observed in one location for at least fifteen minutes. These observations can be done on just one day, or on each day of the event. Data can be entered through the GBBC website or the GBBC BirdLog app. The GBBC is a great citizen science project to get involved with because you don’t have to travel anywhere special to participate: you can count birds in your backyard, at a park, or even in the supermarket parking lot!

February is a great month to observe birds as they migrate between their overwintering and breeding ranges. Bird migrations are driven by the need to feed and breed. In the winter, cooler weather decreases the food supply for birds and birds migrate to find warmer areas for food.  In the spring, they migrate to find more space to breed. Located along the Atlantic Coast Flyway between the cooler climates of Canada and the warmer climates of Central and South America, North Carolina functions as a prime site to see and hear a variety of birds as they migrate between the north and south. The geography of the Piedmont, Mountains, and Outer Banks also provide a great diversity of nesting and breeding grounds.

Redwing Blackbird maleThe amazing feat of bird migrations is how generation after generation, birds are able to journey to the same region without ever taking the same path twice. Birds use several methods to navigate from one area to another. Using the sun by day, the stars by night, and topographic features such as rivers and mountains, birds are guided to their seasonal feeding and breeding grounds. Birds can also use their sense of smell and Earth’s magnetic field to determine which direction to head.

The information gathered from bird banding and citizen science projects help scientists understand bird distribution, feeding habits, and breeding habits. The information is also important in understanding how environmental conditions might be affecting a bird population or species. Numerous bird species have been documented by volunteers with a wide range of birding experience.

American Bittern

Here at Prairie Ridge, we will be participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count on Saturday, February 14, from 9:30 am to 4:00 pm in the Outdoor Classroom.  You’ll learn how to identify some of our common winter birds, help us document the birds on our grounds, learn how to participate in bird citizen science projects in your own backyard, and have a chance to interact with other bird enthusiasts. We’ll loan you a pair of binoculars and a field guide so you can observe and identify the birds visiting our bird feeders from the comfort of our classroom deck.

Are you an experienced birder?  We hope you’ll leave a copy of your bird list with us so we can keep a running tally of all the birds spotted.  With your help, we will develop a complete list of birds on the grounds on Valentine’s Day and contribute valuable information to scientists who use the data we collect in their research. Be sure to come out to Prairie Ridge to experience this once a year event!

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