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Bird count tracks populations


© St. Petersburg Times, published February 10, 2001

Grab yourself a hot cup of coffee, a pad and pen and a pair of binoculars.

[Times photo: Mike Scarantino]
Parks are a perfect place to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count, a four-day event organized by the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Find yourself a quiet, comfortable seat in the backyard or screen room to watch for birds visiting your yard.

The fourth annual Great Backyard Bird Count is scheduled to begin Friday and continue through Feb. 19. The event, a joint project of the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, asks bird-watchers nationwide to peer through binoculars, branches and leaves in search of their favorite feathery friends.

Everyone is invited to join in the fun. Spread the word to family, friends and your local community organizations. Get a group together and plan a weekend long event of your own. The bird count coordinates with and compliments other surveys, such as project Feederwatch.

Why count birds? The Great Backyard Bird Count aids organizations in getting a fix on how populations are affected by wintry weather.

Bird populations constantly are in flux or on the move. The counts afford a snapshot of North American populations. Those snapshots answer questions concerning the migratory patterns of waterfowl, finches and others.

How far north or south have they traveled to escape old man winter? Where in the migratory pattern are they at a given time? Answers to these and other questions help management efforts.

Another important question the counts answer is where the irruptive species are. Irruptive species are birds that migrate to an area where they ordinarily wouldn't be found.

As the weather warms, our feathery friends will be winging their way back to home territories. Having this event at the end of winter allows surveyors to document the distributions and number of birds before March's migrations begin.

Every participant is important. It doesn't matter whether you count just a few that visit your yard, or you do more. The important thing is to get out and enjoy the experience.

Here are a couple things you can do to be ready for this year's event:

If you have been feeding birds for a while, you probably have gotten to know a few favorites. That helps in observing accurately. If you aren't an avid bird-watcher, get to know a few basic species.

Locate a copy of Petersen's Field Guide to Birds of North America, or any publication that has good quality photographs or drawings. Your local library will have a few.

Try to identify species that you know visit your yard. You can contact your local chapter of the Audubon Society for help. Be sure to have a pair of binoculars handy. They allow for a more detailed identification.

An expensive pair of binoculars is not necessary given the closeness of backyard viewing. If you are going to be viewing at a park or wildlife management area, a higher level of equipment will help.

Keep as accurate a count of the different species that visit. When viewing, it is recommended to watch for a half hour or more. Fifteen minutes will do, but the longer period allows for a better sense of the birds that visit your yard.

On the day, or days that you're counting, keep track of the highest number of a given bird species that you observe at one time. For instance, if you view two flocks of sparrows, count only the birds in the larger flock. Submit just the highest counts for that day.

If you will be viewing for more than one day, keep records for each day. Don't combine the totals. It is recommended you don't count individual birds seen at separate times. You might be counting the same bird more than once.

At the end of each day, results can be submitted by going onto the internet. The necessary information and forms are available at This site is offered by the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

If you do not have access to the internet, counts can be submitted to Pasco and the Hernando Audubon Society.

Ken Tracey, president of the West Pasco chapter, is the contact person. He will take your information and submit it online. He can be reached by calling (727) 372-9640. In Hernando County, Audubon Society member Linda Vanderveen will not only be taking submissions by phone, but has organized a field trip for Feb. 17. The public is invited to join in for the day's fun. Vanderveen can be contacted by calling (352) 754-9436.

For Citrus County residents, Mr. & Mrs. Andy Vukmier have volunteered their time to coordinate submissions to the internet. Their phone number is (352) 564-6897.

Plan your efforts because you never know what will come winging by.

- If you have a question or comment, call Capt. Mike Scarantino at (352) 683-4868.

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