Tag Archives: birdwatchers

Save the date: The Great Backyard Bird Count

Coming to a backyard near you: the 20th annual Great Backyard Bird Count.

The count takes place Feb. 17-20 in backyards, parks, nature centers, on hiking trails, school grounds, balconies, and beaches — anywhere people spot birds.

Birdwatchers tally the birds they see for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count, then enter their checklists at birdcount.org. All the data contribute to a snapshot of bird distribution and help scientists see changes.

“The very first GBBC was an experiment,” said Marshall Iliff, a leader of the eBird program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “We wanted to see if people would use the Internet to send us their bird sightings. Clearly the experiment was a success.”

The program collects bird observations globally every day of the year and serves as the online platform used by the GBBC.

That first year of the count, bird watchers submitted about 13,500 checklists from the United States and Canada. In 2016, an estimated 163,763 bird watchers from more than 100 countries submitted 162,052 bird checklists, reporting 5,689 species — more than half the known bird species in the world.

“The Great Backyard Bird Count is a great way to introduce people to participation in citizen science,” said Gary Langham, chief scientist and vice president at the National Audubon Society. “No other program allows volunteers to take an instantaneous snapshot of global bird populations that can contribute to our understanding of how a changing climate is affecting birds.”

An announcement for the count said varying weather conditions are producing  trends to watch.

For example, show many more waterfowl and kingfishers remaining further north than usual because they are finding open water. If that changes, these birds could move southward.

Also, birders are seeing higher than usual numbers of Bohemian waxwings in the Pacific Northwest and northern Rocky Mountains.

And, while some winter finches have been spotted in the East, such as red crossbills, common redpolls, evening grosbeaks and a few pine grosbeaks, there seem to be no big irruptions so far.

Join the count

To learn more about how to participate and what scientists have learned from the Great Backyard Bird Count over the past 20 years, visit birdcount.org.

The GBBC is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society with partner Bird Studies Canada.

Birdcall playback on phones prompts ethics debate

Wildlife watchers can now wield unnatural powers, playing actual birdcalls on smart phones and other mobile devices. The practice, called playback, is effective for attracting elusive species but also can harm nesting birds if overused.

“It’s kind of a balancing act,” said Jeffrey Gordon, president of the American Birding Association in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

“If you’re bringing a common bird into view for a group of kids or showing people how habitat is really good for birds, then a case can be made that it’s a good tool for making birds visible. Caution is most warranted when you have a rare species or a species when a lot of people want to see it at the same location.”

The prevalence of these small, inexpensive tools is increasing at a rate that concerns many recreational birders, said Michael Webster, a professor and director of Cornell University’s Macaulay Library archive, the repository for more than 200,000 bird call recordings — 150,000 of which people can use online.

“The main negative? It can stress the birds, especially if overdone,” Webster said. “On the positive side? These are devices for people to get out there and experience nature. It’s educational engagement.”

People should, however, adhere to a wildlife-watching code of ethics, he said.

The American Birding Association’s Principles of Birding Ethics includes: “Limit the use of recordings and other methods of attracting birds, and never use such methods in heavily birded areas, or for attracting any species that is Threatened, Endangered or of Special Concern, or is rare in your local area.”

That language soon may be updated, Gordon said.

“I don’t know if that will make it more restrictive, though, just more thorough — spelling out a little better that not one size fits all. There are so many birds in so many situations that common sense and courtesy will be a better fit.”

Here, then, are some common-sense suggestions for minimizing playback disturbance to birds and other birders, from noted field guide author David Sibley’s website:

• Have a plan. Choose your spot and know your quarry, don’t just play sounds.

• Play snippets of sound — less than 30 seconds at a time — with a long pause before the next snippet. After five minutes or so, give it a rest.

• Be subtle. You are trying to coax a bird into the open, not stir up a fight (among competing males during mating season).

• No surprises. Announce your intention to play a recording and hold the device above your shoulder so other birders can see the source of the sound. 

“Any potential negative impacts of playback are more likely to occur in areas with a lot of birding pressure, so avoiding playback in those places is a good idea,” Sibley writes. “Where and how to use it in other situations is up to the individual birder.”

On the Web …

American Birding Association: http://www.aba.org/about/ethics.html

David Sibley: http://www.sibleyguides.com/2011/04/the-proper-use-of-playback-in-birding/