Another Great Backyard Bird Count in 2016!
Mid-February is a time to celebrate birds and get involved in citizen science with the Great Backyard Bird Count! Bird enthusiasts worldwide head outside and identify and count birds in their area, then report them to the GBBC. The event has taken place every year since 1998 and has generated an amazing dataset representing bird populations in their winter habitats (at least in the northern hemisphere), shortly before they begin their northward migration. The event takes place over 4 days and is both very popular and successful, with records for the number of participants, the number of checklists submitted, and the number of species broken nearly every year. 2016 saw several records break with a whopping 161,746 checklists submitted, 5386 bird species reported, and 18.5 billion birds counted!
North Carolina has a lot of birders, so it’s no surprise that our state is well represented in the GBBC each year. In 2016, we broke our all time high for the number of species with a total of 212. We also came in sixth in the nation for the number of bird species reported and seventh for the number of checklists submitted (5508). Within the state, we see some differences in the top counties depending on whether you’re looking at the total number of bird species reported or the total number of checklists submitted. If we go by checklists, the top counties were Wake, Mecklenburg, Durham, Orange, and Forsyth, no surprise given the number of people who live in these counties. Tops for the number of species, however, were Dare, New Hanover, Cartaret, Onslow, and Wake, mostly coastal counties where you might see lots of overwintering birds. The best specific locations in the state this year included Arlie Gardens, Lake Mattamuskeet, Schenck Forest, and Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge.
For the past several years, we’ve had a low-key GBBC celebration at Prairie Ridge. We offer extra bird walks and loan out binoculars, give lessons on how to identify common birds, and share resources. We also collect data throughout the weekend that we submit to the GBBC website as we go. It’s a fun way to celebrate birds and share the excitement with our visitors, give people a chance to participate in citizen science, and get people outside.
This year’s Great Backyard Bird Count weekend was very cold, with a high of 32 degrees at Prairie Ridge with a 25 degree wind chill. These conditions meant that we had fewer birders than we might have liked, but we still managed to collect data several times during the day. Partly because we had such low attendance, our species count for the year was a little low, just 21 species. Our total number of birds (172) and checklists (7) were also lower than usual. I suspect that the windy conditions and chilly temps resulted in lower bird activity than we typically see at Prairie Ridge in the winter.
However, low species counts doesn’t necessarily mean we didn’t see any fun birds! The birds we saw might not have been particularly uncommon, but we saw some showy birds like Pine Warblers and Downy Woodpeckers. We saw common birds such as White-throated Sparrows and Northern Cardinals. We saw many Dark-eyed Juncos and Song Sparrows, two species that we often see at our feeders, but not always in large numbers. Perhaps the highlight of the day was a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker that we spotted on the maple trees in front of the Research Lab building. What a gorgeous bird!
Our top five species at Prairie Ridge this year were about the same as in years past. Northern Cardinals are almost always the most abundant species, and this year we spotted 38. They were followed by White-throated Sparrows (35), Dark-eyed Juncos (20), Song Sparrows (17), and Carolina Chickadees (15). We also saw an unusually large number of Pine Warblers, a total of 9 counted on Saturday.
All in all, in spite of the cold, it was another fun and successful Great Backyard Bird Count in North Carolina. At the Museum, we enjoy participating in this event at Prairie Ridge and look forward to many more GBBC weekends in the future!