An annual avian census will take flight Friday for four days, and everyone of any age is welcome to count and chip in with their observations.
The 16th annual Great Backyard Bird Count, a joint effort by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Audubon Society and Bird Studies Canada, gathers data from bird watchers – skilled and novice – to better see trends of bird species populations and patterns across the United States and Canada.
The Northern cardinal, the state bird of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia – more than any other state, for the Western meadowlark commands the designation in six states – remains the most-reported species for eight years running.
Filing out a checklist take three simple steps, accessed through www.birdcount.org, from observing birds in one place and noting how many of each species spotted, whether at home, at the beach, at a park or in a field, for at least 15 minutes, as many times as desired through the bird count weekend.
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Anyone without a computer can take notes, then log on at a local library’s terminals or through a friend or family member’s Web access to complete checklists.
Kurt Hugelmeyer of Sunset Beach, N.C., a volunteer at the Museum of Coastal Carolina in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., loves to chirp about the joys of bird watching. He also helps with programs touting the bird counts as well as gives tips on focusing binoculars, using published bird guides, and where to go locally to see interesting birds.
Question | Why makes bird watching such a pleasant, easy, rewarding pastime, and what are some keys to attracting species that tickle your eyes the most?
Answer | I have fun just watching the birds. Birds are interesting. ... The big thing is to have quite a variety of bird food out there. ... You need a smorgasbord. You want thistle for finches, and if you have suet, you’re going to get woodpeckers – downies and a couple of others.
This time of year, you’ll see a lot of goldfinches, especially because they’re heading north for the spring. You see a lot of Carolina wrens and Carolina chickadees; those are the common birds around here ... and mourning doves. Cardinals are interesting: They’re the first and last ones at the feeder. You’ll see them at first light and last at night.
Q. | Any major changes in the simplicity of filing checklists for the bird count this year?
A. | Go to the website – www.birdcount.org – and it’s all self-explanatory. One thing that’s different: In the past, you didn’t have to establish an account, in a sense. Now, you will need a user name and password; that’s what you use to put your totals in. ... Everything is explained pretty well. Another new thing is the Google map, where you always put in your ZIP code, and you go on and put a pinpoint where you saw the birds so it becomes pretty specific.
Q. | Just how far beyond a back yard does this count go, and how little do limitations become?
A. | The Great Backyard Bird Count, by the way, doesn’t have to be in your back yard. Take a walk or go on the beach. With your checklist you file online, you have to enter your location. You could watch in your back yard in the morning, then go out that afternoon for a walk on the beach, and put that in as a separate entry. ... If you’re in a wheelchair, you can sit in your house and look out the window. It also has nothing to do with expertise; everybody is asked to participate. ... No matter how you’re doing it, watch birds for at least 15 minutes each time. ... And if you don’t have a computer, take your notes for a checklist and have a friend do it.
Q. | Any particular species – such as the largest woodpecker in North America – the pileated woodpecker, or a red-headed woodpecker – give you a delightful sight, and is there one bird you hope crosses your path again?
A. | Pileated woodpeckers: They like suet. I haven’t had one on the feeders thus year, but I see them off and on; they’re not rare. Red-headed woodpeckers are somewhat migratory in this area. I see them every time I play golf, one here and one there; they seem to move south a little bit in the winder. I see a lot more them in summer.
The bobwhite quail; I used to have them every once in a while. I’d see a female under my feeder with a bunch of babies. I hear them once in a while. I used to see them every time I take part in the Christmas Bird Count, toward Pawleys Island, but it’s been at least six years since one’s been seen over here.
Q. | What other parts count in this annual survey?
A. | What you hear is also valid. If you hear a great-horned owl hooting, that counts. A lot of birding is done by ear. A great-horned owl’s gender you can tell by the pitch. ... The male has make has a much lower hoot than the female. Now they’re already nesting, and they might have laid their eggs already, so they’re not so vocal. ... Baby owls in general take a of food to raise. I read that one barn owl gets 3,000 mice a year.
Q. | As you’ve watched birds in your own yard and neighborhood, what treats or drama have livened up the scene, even as a reminder of Mother Nature at work?
A. | We have a lot of trees where we get a Cooper’s hawk. Once they’re around, the birds disappear. I look out there and you have goldfinches out there and a few other birds, and all of a sudden, there’s nothing. There isn’t a thing moving, so I know somewhere there’s a Cooper’s hawk. They’re pretty agile birds. ... And great-horned owls ... one time, I saw the legs of a great white egret hanging out of one of their nests.