The Great Backyard Bird Count

Blue bird perching in my Sycamore tree observing my bird feeder
Blue bird perching in my Sycamore tree observing my bird feeder

The 20th annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) starts Friday, February 17, through Monday, February 20, 2017. Visit the official website at birdcount.org for more information but continue here for the events highlights:

I love feeding and observing what happens right outside my window
I love feeding and observing what happens right outside my window

A citizen science event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of bird populations, the GBBC is a great activity for kids and adults. Participants are asked to count birds for as little as 15 minutes (or as long as they wish) on one or more days of the four-day event and report their sightings online at birdcount.org. Anyone can take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, from beginning bird watchers to experts, and you can participate from your backyard, or anywhere in the world. Sounds easy… and no stress? Just count your bird sightings for 15 minutes and you have contributed to the backyard bird statistics that scientist use for their research.

Falcon
Falcon

Citizen Science is trendy now for good reason. People feel empowered when they can contribute to the data base that scientists from all over the world can use in their studies of bird migrations. And what better research than backyard bird behaviors and numbers? This part of the natural world is very visible and of interest to many people.

Bird feeding in winter
Bird feeding in winter

Observe Birds that Visit Your Feeders

We are a nation of “bird feeders”! More than 52 million Americans feed wild birds or other wildlife around their homes according to The Bird Watching Daily.  Some statistics:  “Two-thirds are women, and nearly 60 percent were between the ages of 45 and 64. On average, participants had been feeding birds for 18 years”. Wanting to bring nature, therapy, education, and beauty to their backyard, many bird feeders are passionate about birds and spend big bucks on this multi-million industry. Suet, nectar feeding, bird feeders, houses, and baths can be added to this list along with the more mundane birdseed.

Red headed woodpecker in my bird feeder
Red Bellied Woodpecker in my bird feeder

Another important fact on The Bird Watching Daily: “Participation in the wild-bird-feeding hobby” they write, “may be an excellent catalyst for engagement in greater levels of outdoor recreation and greater stewardship of the natural world.” Amen! We need more outdoor appreciation and engagement of our natural world in this digital age.

You might be luck enough to spot a snowy owl!
You might be lucky enough to spot a snowy owl!

How to Count The Birds

  • Count birds anywhere you want. Inside observing your bird feeder, or outside on a hike for at least 15 minutes. Keep track of the numbers and species and the time length.

  • Make an estimate of how many birds you saw of each species. Flocks of birds are tough, but use your best guess.

  • Enter your list online at BirdCount.0rg, after first establishing an account. You can start recording your bird sightings at midnight local time on the first day of the count from anywhere in the world.

Turkey vultures are the ugly but necessary scavengers of the animal world
Turkey vultures are the ugly but necessary scavengers of the animal world
  • When you enter your information, you will see a list of birds that could be in your area in February. If the bird you see is unusual, there is a checklist of “rare species” that you can use. Compiled by local bird experts, bird lists should be comprehensive. But if you enter a species of an unusual bird, you get a message asking you to confirm the report and another check box will come up.

    Ducks count too!
    Ducks count too!

    All of these unusual sightings go to a volunteer in the area who reviews these reports and who might even contact you to get more details. Adding photos is especially important for unusual species.

Cardinal
Cardinal

Why?

Bird populations are always shifting and changing and in 2014, Snowy Owl sightings spiked in the northeast and mid-Atlantic, which were recorded on the GBBC. Like a bellwether, climate changes such as warming weather also shows up in these bird counts. More southerly birds are migrating further north, or birds are changing their routes, shortening or completely cancelling their journey as a result of changing temperatures.

Barn Owl
Barn Owl

Some birds, such as winter finches, appear in large numbers during some years but not other species. Scientists can learn from the different patterns exhibited from year to year.

Eastern Screech Owl
Eastern Screech Owl

An estimated 163,763 bird watchers from more than 130 countries participated in the GBBC in 2016, with the U.S. the top participant followed by Canada and India. To see the summary of results for 2016, go to GBBC Summary for 2016 and see the top sighted birds. Even if you can’t identify all your birds that you have observed, if you look at these lists and photos, you are sure to spot your birds.

Not seen in February in my state of Maryland, the ruby throated hummingbird could be seen in California
Not seen in February in my state of Maryland, the ruby-throated hummingbird could be seen in California at this time of year
I love observing and photographing Peacocks, but like chickens, they are a domesticated bird
I love observing and photographing Peacocks, but like chickens, they are a domesticated bird

Pollinator Week

Sunflower painting by Redenta Soprano
Sunflower painting by Redenta Soprano

White House wants to save the bees! That was music to my ears when I got The Great Sunflower Project newsletter in my inbox. A task force has been created by this Presidental decree that is trying to answer particular questions about the role of pollinators in relation to specific species of plants. Pollinators refers to both native and non-native honeybees, as well as all the other insect pollinators.

sunflower

I have posted before about The Great Sunflower Project and how it is utilizing citizen science to gather information about pollinators to assist scientists in analyzing information from all parts of the country to determine the health and ways to help pollinators.

sunflowerproject-seeds-mountain-1

All you need is five minutes per plant. Simply identify the plant and count the pollinators that visit. It is that simple!

Fibonacci spiral
Fibonacci spiral

If you want to read some amazing information about sunflowers, go to Magical Sunflowers.

Bee Skep poster, go to https://www.etsy.com/listing/182225449/18-x-24-pollination-poster-plant-these?
Bee Skep poster, go to https://www.etsy.com/listing/182225449/18-x-24-pollination-poster-plant-these?

 Mark your calendars for June 15-21, 2015 and go to https://www.greatsunflower.org/ to register and read all the great information that has been collected already by people in their backyards. And participate and help the bees!

The Great Sunflower Project – The Backyard Bee Count

Lemon Queen Sunflowers in my backyard

The Great Bee Count

Within the past couple of years, you might have heard that bees are in trouble, growing scarcer, and suffering from a mysterious ailment called Colony Collapse Disorder, or CCD. A variety of culprits have been fingered in causing this syndrome, including pesticide use, parasites, loss of habitat, and diseases. To study bees, both native and the non-native honeybee, scientists decided that they needed a method to determine the numbers and spread of different pollinators. To accomplish this, in 2008 a survey was launched enlisting and empowering local citizens in reporting observations about bees in their own backyard or deck called The Great Bee Count.

Citizen Science

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The Great Bee Count, recruits citizens across the United States and Canada to plant sunflowers and observe all types of bees visiting the flower in a 15 minute time period daily for a week and record their findings on-line.  The first Great Bee Count took place about 7 years ago and countless volunteers recorded their findings to help scientists to check on the prevalence of our tiny pollinators in North America.

Sunflowers are bee magnets
Sunflowers are bee magnets

By creating a map of bee visits, scientists will be able to direct conservation efforts exactly where they are needed.

bee (2)

The data is called ‘trend data’ and showed that in some parts of the country the bees are doing very well, but in other parts like Florida where pesticide use is widespread, the bees are not nearly as numerous. I participated last year and counted at least a dozen bees on my sunflowers in a 15 minute period daily in my backyard in Maryland which shows that this part of the country is above average ‘bee friendly’!

Aug 2010 047
Each of the many seeds of a sunflower has been pollinated

 

For an interactive map of the country go to https://www.greatsunflower.org/Map

Now is the time to order those seeds and get your garden ready to plant your sunflowers. Lemon Queen is the preferred variety of sunflower seeds. It is important to check to make sure that the seeds did not receive a neonicotinoid seed treatment or even better, are organic.  The Great Sunflower Project recommends that people look for Renee’s Garden Seeds because they have partnered with Renee for a number of years and she has offered to pass along 25% of her proceeds from seeds bought at her website to the Great Sunflower Project.

Lemon Queen are the best ones for this project because they have visible pollen
Lemon Queen are the best ones for this project because they have visible pollen

The typical observer saw 2.6 bees every 15 minutes on their sunflowers. Up to 20% of the volunteers observed no bees at all which is very disheartening. Sunflowers were chosen as the standardized plant because they are ‘bee magnets’ and are easy to grow in every state. ‘Lemon Queen’ is the preferred variety because some sunflowers have been developed that have no pollen, but ‘Lemon Queen’ has visible pollen. Even if the grower did not observe bees during the 15 minute interval, that information is valuable also in informing scientists. Keeping tabs on our bees has become an important tool in studying this essential aid to our food supply. Up to one-third of our food supply relies exclusively on bee pollination.

Sunflowers attract many pollinators besides bees
Sunflowers attract many pollinators besides bees

Anyone in North America can participate in The Great Bee Count even if you just have a single container planted outside on a balcony or deck. To find out how to sign up, go to http://www.greatsunflower.org/, register, and plant your sunflower seeds so you can start counting this summer! This is a great project for an ordinary person to have help out the scientific community to study our local bee populations.

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I would love to hear from people who are not in North America to see if there are any similar projects in their country.  Please let me know if you have heard of any or participated.

Go to https://www.etsy.com/shop/TheGardenDiaries
Go to https://www.etsy.com/shop/TheGardenDiaries

Don’t forget that there are many plants that you can plant to encourage bee visits. Go to Plant For the Bees post to see more suggestions.