USA TODAY International Edition

Bird lovers can help with a backyard count

- Dinah Voyles Pulver

If you see your neighbors standing in the yard with binoculars this weekend, don’t be afraid to step outside and join them. ● Although they could be searching for spy balloons and other flying objects, they’re more likely helping out with the 25th internatio­nal Great Backyard Bird Count, a chance to discover birds and the health benefits of bird- watching. ● The organizers – National Audubon Society, Cornell Lab of Ornitholog­y and Birds Canada – hope to motivate nature lovers to help count birds over four days between Friday and Monday. ● “You can do it anywhere. You can do it walking down your street or even just outside your window,” said Chad Wilsey, Audubon’s chief scientist.

Why participat­e in the Great Backyard Bird Count?

The bird count provides a massive record of the birds in backyards and neighborho­ods across the Western Hemisphere and other parts of the globe, and every additional bit of informatio­n helps form a more complete picture.

A count done on the same dates year after year shows where birds are found and how their movements change over time, Wilsey said. “Then you can answer all kinds of questions about how birds are responding to things like climate change.”

Bird- watching and wildlife viewing are good for your health, Wilsey said. And, it’s a great way to get kids involved in outdoor activities and conservati­on.

During last year’s Backyard Bird Count:

● An estimated 385,000 people participat­ed.

● Participan­ts counted birds in 192 countries.

● Volunteers reported more than 7,000 bird species, about three- fourths of the world’s total.

How can you participat­e?

● Count birds for 15 minutes. Participan­ts must count all the birds they see or hear for at least 15 minutes in one location, but they can count as long as they like and in as many locations as they like over the four days.

● Not just the backyard. You can count in your yard but you also can go to any park, wilderness area or beach.

● Identify all the birds you can. An app with bird identification tools, including audio, can help. Audubon recommends the Merlin Bird ID.

● Report the details. All the informatio­n you collect, such as the bird species and number, must be entered on Cornell’s bird counting program called eBird, either through the app or through the website.

● Check with your local Audubon chapter. They’re organizing events across the country. In Ormond Beach, Florida, for example, the Halifax River chapter has an event planned with games, crafts and exhibits.

Find instructio­ns at birdcount. org/ participat­e. An informatio­nal workshop is planned for 1 p. m. EST on Wednesday.

Why count birds

This count, and others like it – such as the long- running North American Breeding Bird Survey and Audubon Christmas Bird Count – give scientists expansive informatio­n about where birds are found, and how many are found in given locations.

Because the bird count happens in the winter, it gives scientists an important look at migratory species and where they’re found, Wilsey said. That’s important because migratory birds have experience­d “tremendous” declines, a loss of up to 2.5 billion birds since the 1970s.

Birds are important because they serve as pest control, pollinator­s, help spread seeds and play a role in nature’s food chain.

Bird- watching contribute­s $ 41 billion a year to the nation’s economy, federal officials have concluded.

How climate change affects birds

Scientists can look at the movements of certain species and relate that to the changing climate over time, Wilsey said.

They use the informatio­n collected to look back at how things have changed and forward to the future to make conclusion­s about how birds will respond to climate change and how vulnerable they may be.

One Audubon study looked at how birds would fare under three climate change scenarios. With more than two degrees of warming over 35 years, at least 51 of the 600 species they looked at faced either a high risk of being wiped out or declines as they’re threatened by habitat conversion, extreme weather and sea level rise.

 ?? TOM E. PUSKAR/ USA TODAY NETWORK ?? A female pileated woodpecker pecks on a tree off the trail to Big Lyons Falls in Mohican State Park in Loudonvill­e, Ohio.
TOM E. PUSKAR/ USA TODAY NETWORK A female pileated woodpecker pecks on a tree off the trail to Big Lyons Falls in Mohican State Park in Loudonvill­e, Ohio.

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