Another opportunity arises for anyone to serve as a citizen scientist on the upcoming Great Backyard Bird Count. Each year the four-day bird count is held in mid-February on the leading edge of the bird migration season. Counting birds simultaneously across the continental US, Hawaii, and Canada, scientists follow trends in population numbers and bird migration patterns. This year’s bird count will be conducted February 18 through 21. Participation information and results of previous bird counts is at www.birdsource.org.
This past year participants from the 50 US states and Canada’s 10 provinces and three territories found 602 species of birds in 11 million observations. The most observed bird was the American robin. The Canada goose, snow goose, American crow, and European starling followed. Some rare bird observations were made in 2010. A new species was sighted off the coast of San Diego; and a finch was found in Ontario, Canada far from its native range of the Rocky Mountains. The Great Backyard Bird count is effective in monitoring population trends. In 1999, one thousand Eurasian collared doves, immigrants to Florida from the Caribbean, were observed in nine states. Last year, 14 thousand doves were found in 39 states. I first spotted these new doves in my backyard about three years ago. Larger than mourning doves, these unwary doves with a dark ring marking the neck often hold steady for easy viewing. Experts review the checklists of bird observations, and computer analysis helps detect errors. For example, last year I reported seeing several hundred herring gulls. The program flagged this as an unusually large number of sightings of this species for Arkansas in February. They asked me if I could verify my sighting. Indeed the birds were ring-billed gulls. Today’s picture shows a screech owl squinting in the sunlight. Rita and I found three of the small owls living in wood duck nesting boxes here on Peace Farm. I’ll dust off my binoculars and camera for the Great Backyard Bird Count.