Feb. 1, 1999 ITHACA, N.Y. -- After the warmest year on record, how are our beloved birds faring? Bird enthusiasts of all ages and backgrounds are being urged to help researchers find out by participating in the second Annual Great Backyard Bird Count, Feb. 19-22.
A project of Cornell University's Laboratory of Ornithology and the
National Audubon Society, the Great Backyard Bird Count asks everyone --
kids, adults, seniors, families, classrooms and community groups -- to
count the birds they see at their backyard bird feeders, local parks and
other areas. Reports are entered online at BirdSource
"Bird-watching is the fastest-growing outdoor recreation in the country, enjoyed by millions every year," says Frank Gill, senior vice president for science at National Audubon. "Combined with the cutting-edge Internet technology of BirdSource, this observation power will allow us to immediately begin assessing 1999's distribution and abundance of North American birds, the week before spring migrations begin."
The count follows last year's first-ever tally of its kind, the Great '98 Backyard Bird Count, during which over 14,000 people tallied more than half a million birds. Findings will be especially important, ornithologists say, in this post-El Niño year. Last year, this weather phenomenon dumped unprecedented amounts of rain on the West Coast, induced a hot, dry summer in the Southeast and may have been responsible for devastating ice storms in the Northeast.
"We know this meant hard times for many people," says Gill. "Now we need to know what effect, if any, El Niño had on the birds."
To do this, Cornell and Audubon are counting on the estimated 60 million people who feed or watch birds. "We need them to help us by spending as little as 15 minutes -- on any or all of the days -- counting the numbers and kinds of birds they see during their morning coffee break, while driving to work, taking a stroll or while purposefully out bird-watching," continues Gill. Participants tally the highest number of each species seen at one time (so as not to count the same birds more than once). When logging onto BirdSource to report their observations, participants click on their state or province and receive a checklist of the most frequently reported birds in their region. Within hours, they will be able to see how their reports combine with others across the continent to create a kind of "snapshot" of North American birds.
"The Internet has become an important tool for conservation because it can gather, analyze and distribute vast amounts of information quickly, and the number of people online is increasing substantially every year," says John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell lab. "Some reports show that 75 percent of American households now own PCs and that 65 percent of these have Internet access. The number of online computer users worldwide has doubled to 140 million in the last 18 months."
Prospective bird counters don't have to be online to participate in the second Annual Great Backyard Bird Count. One count sponsor, Wild Birds Unlimited, a bird-feeding and nature retail business with more than 250 locations across North America, will enter reports at many of their stores for people who are not online. (To find out how to get information to them, call toll-free
(1-800-326-4WBU). "We're especially excited about this," says Fitzpatrick. "It means we'll have that many more eyes out there scanning the North American landscape and counting for the birds. We want every U.S. ZIP code and Canadian postal code to be represented on this year's maps."
Wild Birds Unlimited and another exclusive Great Backyard Bird Count sponsor, the Ford Motor Co., also provided support this year for the development of new beginner-level materials for the web site. The Great Backyard Bird Count is a perfect family or youth group activity, and last year many classrooms logged on for the count, according to the Cornell lab director.
This year, to encourage even more schools and families, the site features a vocabulary list to help them learn words commonly associated with birds and their environments. There's also a bibliography suggesting reference books, field guides and even novels that might be of interest to educators, students and beginning birders. There are tips on how and what to feed birds and steps everyone can take to make sure they're ready for the big event. Site visitors will be able to view colorful bird images, hear examples of their vocalizations and look at trend data from last year's count and other citizen-science projects, such as Project FeederWatch and Christmas Bird Counts.
"We're excited to see how this year's data compare to what we accumulated last year," says Fitzpatrick. "Each year of the count is important and serves as a vital component in establishing a picture of North American birds' long-term population trends. The more information we have, the better we'll be able to ensure our common birds will remain common and take measures to protect species already in decline. That's why it's so important to get as many people as possible to tell us what they're seeing."
To participate, simply go to the BirdSource web site at http://birdsource.cornell.edu and click on the Great Backyard Bird Count button. Directions and other information are provided at the site. Participation is free and no registration is necessary. All the necessary information is available at the web site. For further information, call toll-free (1-800-843-BIRD (2473).
Related World Wide Web sites: The following sites provide additional information on this news release. Some might not be part of the Cornell University community, and Cornell has no control over their content or availability.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology: http://birds.cornell.edu
National Audubon Society: http://www.audubon.org
Other social bookmarking and sharing tools:
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