HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania Game Commission officials are encouraging bird and nature fans throughout the state to join tens of thousands of everyday North American bird watchers for the 2011 Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), Feb. 18-21. A joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, this free event is an opportunity for families, students, and people of all ages to discover the wonders of nature in backyards, schoolyards, and local parks, and, at the same time, make an important contribution to conservation. Participants count birds and report their sightings online at www.birdcount.org.
“These types of activities provide the citizen-scientist with an opportunity to help wildlife,” said Doug Gross, Game Commission biologist. “Anyone who can identify even a few species can contribute to the information wildlife managers use to decide where to invest limited resources in land conservation, as well as habitat improvement or protection.
“Additionally, this is a great opportunity for beginning bird watchers to hone their skills, and for all participants to enjoy the winter landscape.”
Participants are asked to count birds for at least 15 minutes on at least one day of the event and reporting their sightings online at www.birdsource.org/gbbc. Additional online resources include tips to help identify birds, a photo gallery, and special materials for educators.
“Last year, the GBBC was a very popular event in Pennsylvania, with 4,878 checklists submitted,” Gross said. “The places with the most checklists were Pittsburgh, with 156 submissions; Erie, with 106; and Mechanicsburg, Cumberland County, with 76. Many small towns were also represented in the total effort.
“A total of 132 species were reported by Pennsylvania participants in 2010. More Canada geese (37,870) were reported than any other species, but dark-eyed junco was reported most frequently (3,816 lists) by winter backyard watchers than any other species in the state. The finch invasion just did not happen in the winter of 2010, but this winter we hear reports of pine siskins at many locations and an increasing number of common redpolls, especially in the north.”
Gross also noted that there were more reports of short-eared owls throughout the state.
“The February dates allow us to count some early migrants, as well as some semi-hardy ‘hangers on’ that have lasted the winter in some yards,” Gross said. “For those extra-interesting birds, keep an eye on areas that are well-protected from the wind, especially conifers, and where there are winter-persistent fruits and berries. Juniper berries and sumac fruit clusters are magnets for hungry songbirds including bluebirds and robins. Water is always an attractant for birds, too, and backyard water gardens seem to bring in many species not usually seen where there is snow and ice.”
Gross also encouraged those submitting reports to the GBBC website to also contribute bird sightings by registering at Pennsylvania eBird, a birding website managed by the Game Commission. To submit sightings, go to the Game Commission’s Web site and click on “Wildlife” in the menu bar at the top of the page, then choose “Birding” and then click on “Pennsylvania eBird.”
“The Game Commission was the first state wildlife agency to host and manage a state eBird website, which is dedicated to helping birders throughout North America and the world record their bird observations and improve our understanding of the use of bird habitat and seasonal bird activities,” Gross said.
The data collected helps the Game Commission and other wildlife researchers understand the importance of particular locations to birds and bird population trends, information that is critical for effective conservation. These efforts enable everyone to see what would otherwise be impossible: a comprehensive picture of where birds are in late winter and how their numbers and distribution compare with previous years. In 2010, participants turned in new record of more than 97,200 checklists, creating the continent’s largest instantaneous snapshot of bird populations ever recorded. Checklists came in from all 50 states in the U.S. and from all 10 provinces and three territories of Canada. Participants reported 602 species in 11.2 million individual bird observations.
Each year, in addition to entering their tallies, participants submit thousands of digital images for the GBBC photo contest. Many are featured in the popular online gallery. Visit www.birdsource.org/gbbc to learn more.