Annual bird count continues to grow
CAPITAL REGION People will be peering into trees and jotting down notes starting Friday as the Great Backyard Bird Count gets under way.
Now in its 16th year, the four-day event brings thousands of people out to local parks or their own backyards to give scientists a snapshot of bird activity.
A joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the National Audubon Society and Bird Studies Canada, the count will stretch throughout the globe for the first time this year.
Though bird enthusiasts in New York state didn’t report finding the greatest amount of birds in 2012, they took first place in the 2012 count by sending the greatest number of checklists — 6,614, compared with runner-up California, which submitted 5,619 checklists, according to the event’s website, www.birdsource.org.
Held each year on President’s Day weekend, the bird count not only provides scientists with important data but also gives people another reason to get outdoors and appreciate nature.
Birds are among the few readily visible creatures that stick it out locally for the Northeast winter, said Nancy Castillo, a co-owner of the Wild Birds Unlimited outlet in Wilton. Some birds are starting to make calls already, she said, bringing more life to the often gray and seemingly lifeless landscape.
“It feels empty when there isn’t some of that life in it,” Castillo said.
Wild Birds Unlimited, with more than 260 outlets nationwide, is a sponsor of the event, along with Cornell Information Technologies and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Castillo said the store, which carries bird feed and feeders, bird watching supplies and information on birds, is working to promote local participation, offering bird feed and other gifts to guests who bring in their completed surveys this season. It’s an easy process, Castillo said, and people don’t have to be experts to get involved.
“You don’t have to go and chase rare birds. You can just sit in your own yard and count the chickadees or count the cardinals,” she said.
The store is also marketing bird feeders and feed — and using them is not considered cheating, said Pat Leonard, a spokeswoman at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Food from bird feeders accounts for only about 20 percent of a bird’s diet, she said.
“Those birds would be in the area anyway,” Leonard said.
Last year’s participation drew 104,000 submissions from between 65,000 and 70,000 individuals, and Leonard said the trend continues upward as people try to re-connect with nature. Bird-watching, she said, is second only to gardening among hobbies.
“It’s very soothing, and I think people can escape and find solace in a world that’s so full of negative things. There’s really no downside to being outside in nature and listening to it,” she said.