Saturday, February 10, 2018

Counting the Winter Birds in My Backyard

Anybody can take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC.) It's free. It's fun. Every year I mark my calendar for this four-day event in February. Birdwatchers around the world count for as little as 15 minutes a day for one or more days then report the sightings online at Led by Cornell Lab. of Ornithology, the National Audubon Society, and many international partners, the purpose of this citizen-science project is to provide a snapshot of the distribution and abundance of wildbirds around the world in real time. Scientists use this information to answer questions like, "How will the weather and climate change influence bird populations?" and "How are bird diseases, such as West Nile virus, affecting birds in different regions?" More than 160,000 people of all ages and all walks of life participate. The 2018 GBBC takes place from Friday, February 16 through Monday, February 19 and I'm ready -- well, nearly ready, I just have to clean the French windows where I stand to count (I'm waiting for the temperature to go above freezing tomorrow before doing this task.)

The French windows in the garden room are framed by branches from the old catalpa tree. Birds gather there to take turn visiting the bird feeder that hangs from one of the branches.  Click on the next picture to enlarge it; there are four or five birds waiting there:

Cardinals, a sparrow, and a black-eyed junco wait in the catalpa tree.
Can you see the chickadee?

One of the catalpa's larger branches is perfectly placed for my bird photography. Unfortunately, this old branch is dying; it will fall one of these days, so we are careful not to walk beneath it. I will be so sad when it is gone because it enables me to get some great shots. 

White-breasted nuthatch on my favorite-for-photography branch

The bird feeder hangs from this same branch. It looks like a cheery, red barn. H.H. keeps the feeder full of sunflower seeds that attract many species of birds.

House finch on the bird feeder in a snowstorm

Below the tree, on the back porch, there is a water dish containing a small heater that prevents the water from freezing in the Pocono's subfreezing temperatures of winter. This is another of H.H.'s projects: he keeps it clean and topped with water. The heated water dish attracts all sorts of birds and other wildlife. My favorites are the bluebirds, but we have seen very few this season. I'm not sure if the bluebirds' decline is caused by lower-than-usual temperatures, the proliferation of house sparrows, or some other reason. The GBBC study may shed some light on this problem. I hope the bluebirds  return in the spring.

White-throated sparrow on the heated water dish
A single Eastern bluebird -- usually there are several at the waterdish

In addition to the seed feeder, H.H. hangs a suet feeder on the deck. This is for the woodpeckers. We see several species in our garden but the most frequent visitors are the red-bellied and the downy woodpeckers.

Red-bellied woodpecker
Downy woodpecker

Providing food, water, and shelter are ways to attract birds to the yard. Unfortunately, they draw less desirable wildlife, especially my adversary, the grey squirrel. (I don't use that word lightly -- did you know, The Adversary -- uppercase A -- means the Devil? Very appropriate.) The bird feeder is supposed to be squirrel-proof, but they know how to get at the seeds. They even remove the roof sometimes and climb right inside.

Not even the blue jay, with all it's squawking, scares away the squirrel.

Blue jay

In spite of the squirrels, the birds continue to return to my yard.

Black-eyed junco

To take part in the bird count, simply tally the numbers and types of birds you see, noting the time you watched. You can count from any location for as long as you wish. All the information you need to get started is on the website HERE. I do hope you join the fun!

How many birds will you count?

Pamela x

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