June 24th, 2024

Great backyard bird count helps conservation take flight

By Lethbridge Herald on February 15, 2023.

Herald photo by Troy Bannerman The Great Backyard Bird Count, set for this weekend, invites citizen scientists to help collect data towards conservation efforts for wild bird populations.

By Troy Bannerman – Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

It’s that time of year when bird watching enthusiasts all over the world prepare for the Great Backyard Bird Count. 

Karrie Wilcox, the Canadian coordinator for FeederWatch, an international organization that monitors and collects data on birds for conservation purposes, is also with Birds Canada.

She describes the event and her role, “I coordinate the Great Backyard Bird Count, which is a free fun event in February. It’s the third weekend and it’s now in its 26th year. So it’s a great day to set. So we can look at trends from year to year, we can see differences in the start of migration.

“It’s a lot of really awesome data because it’s part of this huge database. It’s part of E-bird, and it’s been used in lots of publications so it’s fantastic data. 

“You do not need to register ahead of time for the Great Backyard Bird Count. The count is four days, Feb 17-20. Just count birds for as little as 15 minutes on one of the days or participate on all four. Just enter a separate checklist for each time you count and each new location,” she said.

The GBBC is a joint program with Cornell, Audubon and Birds Canada. To enter your birds for the GBBC just goto birdcount.org/participate. There are three ways participants can enter their birds: Merlin Bird ID app, eBird online, or eBird Mobile app.” 

“At Birds Canada we are a national organization; we have offices across Canada. We are non-profit. We have 75 employees and 75,000 volunteers that participate in our programs, said Wilcox.

“We use a lot of citizen scientists to gather data and we also drive conservation. We gather data to drive conservation.” 

She stated that 2021 was a record year for participation.

“We collected huge amounts of data. 2021 was the first year after the pandemic that we had the Great Backyard Bird Count and participation grew 50 per cent. So many people discovered birds, not just in their backyard but got into birding during lockdowns and people just became a lot more interested in birds, and aware of nature. And so it was a really huge participation boost,” she said.

“And it continued. We are still seeing more. And it’s also so great for people too. Spending time in nature, watching birds out your window, makes you feel less stressed and happier. So it’s just a win-win to participate. 385 000 people around the world participated in 2021; it was just absolutely amazing. So many people have found such a great stress relief watching the birds out your window. Its just fantastic” 

Among projects data has helped with, Wilcox described the work going on with the Evening Grosbeak.

“There’s lots of research that’s being done on species like Evening Grosbeaks. That’s one of our resident winter birds. They live in boreal areas up north and we’ve seen them declining. So there’s lots of work being done to figure out why they are declining and to come up with conservation plans for the species…And this is a really good year for seeing Evening Grosbeaks on the Great Backyard Bird Count because they are one of those birds that respond to seed and corn crop up north.

“So, in years when there’s poor seeding corn crops then they move south and they come to feeders. This year we are seeing large numbers of Evening Grosbeaks, at least in Ontario, Quebec, and the eastern provinces.” 

When she was asked about her favourite bird, Wilcox said that changes daily. “Right now, I’d say the Eastern Screech Owl is my favorite, my favorite bird.” 

Some Bird Stats from the 2022 GBBC in Lethbridge: 

Largest flock reported – 2,000 Mallards in Henderson Lake
Notable flocks: 1,500 Canada Geese and 700 Common Goldeneye in Pavan Park. 

Other notable sightings: an American Robin in Rutgers Park, a Snowy Owl on Highway 876. 

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