Nature Notes for February 17, 2012
This weekend, all my readers have an opportunity to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count. The 15th annual Great Backyard Bird Count will take place this year from February 17-20.
To participate, you can count birds at your backyard feeder for as little as fifteen minutes. If your preference is to go on an all-day hike in Presqu’ile Provincial Park or the Northumberland or Ganaraska Forests, you can count all the birds you encounter there.
For each day and/or location where you bird, you fill out a check list and submit it over the GBBC web site.
Volunteers submit check lists from all over North America. This allows scientists a snapshot view of where the birds are over this short time period. A few of the questions being posed this year are:
●How will this winter's snow (or lack of it in Ontario) and temperatures influence bird populations?
●Where are winter finches and other “irruptive” species that appear in large numbers during some years but not others?
●How will the timing of birds’ migrations compare with past years?
●How are bird diseases, such as West Nile virus, affecting birds in different regions?
●What kinds of differences in bird diversity are apparent in cities versus suburban, rural, and natural areas?
●Are any birds undergoing worrisome declines that point to the need for conservation attention?
Locally, there are flocks of PineSiskins and White-winged Crossbills, two of the irruptive finch species. Although they haven’t been at my feeder, I’ve found them several places feeding on seeds from white cedar cones. The crossbills prefer white spruce. It will be interesting to see in what other places they are being found.
As to migration, there have been reports locally of ducks returning earlier that usual. Flocks of Northern Pintail have been found in the past few weeks in Cobourg Harbour, Presqu’ile Bay and Garden Hill pond.
Scientists can learn a lot by knowing where the birds are. Bird populations are dynamic. That is, they are constantly changing. No single scientist or team of scientists could hope to document the complex distribution and movements of so many species in such a short time.
Over a long period of time the GBBC data can be combined with data collected by Christmas Bird Counts and on eBird to give some indication of bird population trends.
In 2011, the top ten species, that is the species which occurred on the most checklists, were Northern Cardinal, Mourning Dove, Dark-eyed Junco, Downy Woodpecker, American Goldfinch, Blue Jay, American Crow, Black-capped Chickadee, House Finch and Tufted Titmouse. All but the last one occur regularly in winter in NorthumberlandCounty.
The top ten list of most numerous birds were European Starling (with 1,378,210 reported!), American Robin, Common Grackle, Canada Goose, Red-winged Blackbird, Snow Goose, American Crow, American Goldfinch, Dark-eyed Junco and Mallard. Several of these species would be unusual in this area in winter, although Northumberland can certainly contribute to the starling numbers.
Last year, checklists were received from the Northumberland County towns of Cobourg, Grafton, Port Hope, Brighton, Colborne, Hastings, Harwood, Campbellcroft, Campbellford and Castleton.
There is also a photography contest attached to this event. Bird photographers might want to participate.
Check the website for detailed instructions: www.birdsource.org/gbbc As checklists are submitted, maps are updated throughout the weekend. You can find out what species are being recorded and where in North America they are.