ITHACA, N.Y. -- After the warmest year on record, how are ourbeloved birds faring? Bird enthusiasts of all ages and backgrounds arebeing urged to help researchers find out by participating in the secondAnnual Great Backyard Bird Count, Feb. 19-22.
A project of Cornell University's Laboratory of Ornithology and theNational Audubon Society, the Great Backyard Bird Count asks everyone --kids, adults, seniors, families, classrooms and community groups -- tocount the birds they see at their backyard bird feeders, local parks andother areas. Reports are entered online at BirdSource
"Bird-watching is the fastest-growing outdoor recreation in thecountry, enjoyed by millions every year," says Frank Gill, senior vicepresident for science at National Audubon. "Combined with the cutting-edgeInternet technology of BirdSource, this observation power will allow us toimmediately begin assessing 1999's distribution and abundance of NorthAmerican birds, the week before spring migrations begin."
The count follows last year's first-ever tally of its kind, theGreat '98 Backyard Bird Count, during which over 14,000 people tallied morethan half a million birds. Findings will be especially important,ornithologists say, in this post-El Niño year. Last year, this weatherphenomenon dumped unprecedented amounts of rain on the West Coast, induceda hot, dry summer in the Southeast and may have been responsible fordevastating ice storms in the Northeast.
"We know this meant hard times for many people," says Gill. "Nowwe need to know what effect, if any, El Niño had on the birds."
To do this, Cornell and Audubon are counting on the estimated 60million people who feed or watch birds. "We need them to help us byspending as little as 15 minutes -- on any or all of the days -- countingthe numbers and kinds of birds they see during their morning coffee break,while driving to work, taking a stroll or while purposefully outbird-watching," continues Gill. Participants tally the highest number ofeach species seen at one time (so as not to count the same birds more thanonce). When logging onto BirdSource to report their observations,participants click on their state or province and receive a checklist ofthe most frequently reported birds in their region. Within hours, theywill be able to see how their reports combine with others across thecontinent to create a kind of "snapshot" of North American birds.
"The Internet has become an important tool for conservation becauseit 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 showthat 75 percent of American households now own PCs and that 65 percent ofthese have Internet access. The number of online computer users worldwidehas doubled to 140 million in the last 18 months."
Prospective bird counters don't have to be online to participate inthe second Annual Great Backyard Bird Count. One count sponsor, Wild BirdsUnlimited, a bird-feeding and nature retail business with more than 250locations across North America, will enter reports at many of their storesfor 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 NorthAmerican landscape and counting for the birds. We want every U.S. ZIP codeand Canadian postal code to be represented on this year's maps."
Wild Birds Unlimited and another exclusive Great Backyard BirdCount sponsor, the Ford Motor Co., also provided support this year for thedevelopment of new beginner-level materials for the web site. The GreatBackyard Bird Count is a perfect family or youth group activity, and lastyear many classrooms logged on for the count, according to the Cornell labdirector.
This year, to encourage even more schools and families, the sitefeatures a vocabulary list to help them learn words commonly associatedwith birds and their environments. There's also a bibliography suggestingreference books, field guides and even novels that might be of interest toeducators, students and beginning birders. There are tips on how and whatto feed birds and steps everyone can take to make sure they're ready forthe big event. Site visitors will be able to view colorful bird images,hear examples of their vocalizations and look at trend data from lastyear's count and other citizen-science projects, such as ProjectFeederWatch and Christmas Bird Counts.
"We're excited to see how this year's data compare to what weaccumulated last year," says Fitzpatrick. "Each year of the count isimportant and serves as a vital component in establishing a picture ofNorth American birds' long-term population trends. The more information wehave, the better we'll be able to ensure our common birds will remaincommon and take measures to protect species already in decline. That's whyit's so important to get as many people as possible to tell us what they'reseeing."
To participate, simply go to the BirdSource web site at http://birdsource.cornell.edu and click on the Great Backyard Bird Countbutton. Directions and other information are provided at the site.Participation is free and no registration is necessary. All the necessaryinformation is available at the web site. For further information, calltoll-free (1-800-843-BIRD (2473).
Related World Wide Web sites: The following sites provideadditional information on this news release. Some might not be part of theCornell University community, and Cornell has no control over their contentor availability.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology: http://birds.cornell.edu
National Audubon Society: http://www.audubon.org
Materials provided by Cornell University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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