All winter long we enjoy watching the birds that come to our feeder, from the black-capped chickadees to the redbellied woodpeckers. And now it's time for the Great Backyard Bird Count, which is this weekend, February 13-16. It's easy to participate and requires only a little of your time--as little as 15 minutes. Of course, you can birdwatch for longer than that, and you can count birds on more than one day and in more than one place. Get all the details here. You can download a tally sheet to keep track of the species, but then you simply enter your data on-line. And here's a nifty poster that you can print out or e-mail to fellow birders.
Why should you participate? Because each checklist contributes valuable information about such things as distribution of species and migratory patterns:
In 2008, GBBC participants documented the huge southward movement of northern finches from Canada, as well as the expanding ranges of the Eurasian Collared Dove and the Redbellied Woodpecker. Northern Bobwhite and Eastern Meadowlark numbers continue to decline. Some species showed up in GBBC reports for the very first time.
Indeed, the Audubon Society just released a report showing that climate change is affecting bird populations. (Sorry, I couldn't get the link to open for me; the name of the report is Birds and Climate Change: Ecological Disruption in Motion.) The AP did a story on it here.
When it comes to global warming, the canary in the coal mine isn't a canary at all. It's a purple finch.
As the temperature across the U.S. has gotten warmer, the purple finch has been spending its winters more than 400 miles farther north than it used to.
And it's not alone.
An Audubon Society study to be released Tuesday found that more than half of 305 birds species in North America, a hodgepodge that includes robins, gulls, chickadees and owls, are spending the winter about 35 miles farther north than they did 40 years ago.
The purple finch was the biggest northward mover. Its wintering grounds are now more along the latitude of Milwaukee, Wis., instead of Springfield, Mo.
Bird ranges can expand and shift for many reasons, among them urban sprawl, deforestation and the supplemental diet provided by backyard feeders. But researchers say the only explanation for why so many birds over such a broad area are wintering in more northern locales is global warming.
You can be part of documenting these changes, and it's easy and fun--and a great activity for kids. The GBBC site can even help you learn to identify species. Browse the site to see what it offers (including some great photos by last year's participants), but do plan to spend just fifteen minutes of your time this weekend helping scientists and conservationists understand the changes bird populations are experiencing--and what that might say about environmental and climate change as well.