What was the first sound you heard when you woke up this morning? (After the alarm, of course!) If your household is quiet, chances are it was birdsong. Gordon Hempton, an acoustic ecologist who records sounds of our natural world, shares that humans have a “very discreet bandwidth of super sensitive hearing, which falls between 2.5-5 kilohertz. Birdsong happens to be a perfect match to that range.”
So it seems we are uniquely tuned-in to pay attention to our feathered friends. Birds and their songs have been a part of our lives from the beginning. Ancient caves and cultural practices show evidence of our deep fascination and connection with birds. Watching birds seems to be a basic human instinct, keeping us connected to our natural world, even in the most urban environments.
Paying attention to birds helps us understand our greater ecosystem health, which reflects our own well-being. Environments that sustain healthy bird populations are healthy for us humans too. Modern life can be complicated and overwhelming at times; why not take a moment from your busy day to notice what’s going on with birds or wildlife?
The Great Backyard Bird Count
Americans spend $2.5 billion per year feeding and caring for backyard birds. The Great Backyard Bird Count allows us to do something useful with all that money. The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) was the first online citizen science project to collect data and show the results in real time. “Citizen science” simply means that normal citizens such as you, your co-workers, neighbors, and even children can participate in collecting scientific data. In this case, that data is the beautiful birds singing outside your window.
The idea is simple: count and record the number and types of birds you see in your yard (or some other place) for at least 15 minutes during the weekend of February 17-20, 2017. Then, submit your count on the Great Backyard Bird Count website. Last year, participants submitted 144,000 checklists that included almost 4,300 species of birds worldwide! There is no way scientists could count this many birds on their own.
Why count the birds? Bird populations fluctuate depending on changes in their environment. So the more we know about them, the better we can investigate those big-picture bird questions, such as “what differences are there between urban, rural, and suburban bird populations?” Or “how are bird populations affected by weather and climate change?”
It’s simple, yet so helpful! Even if you’re a very beginner and don’t know many bird species, you can focus on counting the species you do know. If you would like to practice a bit and learn more before the big weekend, there are many resources to help you.
Need some help with bird identification? The Cornell Lab of Ornithology offers a free application called Merlin to help you figure out the birds in your yard (or wherever else you are watching birds). Simply answer a few questions, and the app will narrow you’re your choices and show you some possibilities. Then match the pictures with the bird in your yard. Find the Merlin app here.
Everything you need to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count can be found on their website.
The Great Backyard Bird Count is also a great project for kids!
Visit a nature center near you to learn a few common bird species and practice identifying them. Check your local Audubon chapter or Metro Parks for opportunities to practice with a professional. Consider sharing this idea with a friend or family member who might be interested. The more people involved, the more useful the data will be. How often do you get to participate in an event linking you to people and wildlife all over the globe? The best part is that you can do all this from the comfort of your own home. Imagine the impact of millions of people all counting birds together. It’s certainly worth 15 minutes of your weekend! Hope you can join us this February 17-20th! –Colleen Sharkey
Colleen Sharkey is an environmental educator and naturalist whose love for birds has led to a focus on native pollinator conservation. Colleen enjoys sharing her passion for the natural world through workshops, guided hikes and the written word. Find her around central Ohio birding by ear while trail running or studying native plants and insects through a macro lens.
Featured Photo Credit: JB Stran