For the Birds: Get out and count – for the birds

Photo by Chris Bosak An American Robin perches on a rock at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., in Jan. 2015.
Photo by Chris Bosak
An American Robin perches on a rock at Weed Beach in Darien, Conn., in Jan. 2015. Flocks of robins often show up during winter bird counts

I am guilty. I admit it.

Even though I have preached in this column before about the importance of participating in citizen science studies and turning in results, whether those results are good or bad, I often do not submit my “bad walks.”

Take eBird, for example.

Even though it would valuable to report all of my walks to this online bird database, I often submit only results for the walks that yield unique or plentiful species. I saw only two chickadees and a turkey vulture flyover, I say to myself. How is that data going to be valuable?

In reality, that data is just as valuable as the results I turn in when the birding is good. Scientists who track this data need to know what’s going on out there at all times, not just when a lot of birds are around.

Is there a problem brewing with a certain species? Biologists will never know if only “good walks” are recorded. In fact, it could be damaging to report only the good times as it paints a rosy picture of something that may not be so cheery.

This is especially true for someone (like me) who walks a specific area often. If I report only the bountiful walks and ignore the walks when I see almost nothing, it could very easily make biologists think the area is teeming with birds when, in fact, it is not.

So, yes, I’m guilty. But I’m coming clean and vow to change. A walk with one or two individual birds is just as important to report as a walk with dozens or even hundreds of the feathered friends.

I bring this up now because two important annual bird surveys are coming up. The Great Backyard Bird Count and New Hampshire Audubon’s Backyard Winter Bird Survey take place later this month. The Great Backyard Bird Count is Feb. 15-18, and the N.H. Audubon survey is Feb. 9 and 10.

Rebecca Suomala, coordinator of the N.H. Audubon survey, said in a release that a lack of birds is important to note.

“If everyone reported only when they have a lot of birds, we wouldn’t be able to see the declines,” she said.

The surveys are not competitions. There is no prize for the person who sees the most birds. The value comes from giving biologists a snapshot of what birds are around at a particular moment in time.

I have heard from many people this year who are concerned about the lack of chickadees at their feeders. N.H. Audubon is following and evaluating this trend and their survey is an important tool for their work.

Suomala said: “With over 30 years of data we can track long-term ups and downs of species such as the chickadee. Although they were at a record low in 2018, we can see that their numbers have fluctuated widely over time with low years followed by high peaks.”

Suomala predicted a good year for northern birds, such as pine and evening grosbeaks.

All New Hampshire residents are welcomed and encouraged to participate.

For more information about the state survey, call (603) 224-9909 or visit www.nhaudubon.org and click on “Birding.” Results of counts from previous years are also available on the site.

For more information about the Great Backyard Bird Count, which has blossomed into a global event, visit gbbc.birdcount.org. Remember, it’s not a contest. Lack-of-birds data is just as important as plentiful-birds data. Yes, I’m looking in the mirror.

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1 thought on “For the Birds: Get out and count – for the birds

  1. Excellent point, Chris, and one that certainly bears repeating. I didn’t eBird for some time, but I realized that I was doing a disservice and owed it to the birds to report my sightings so that they could contribute in even a small way to the greater understanding of population trends and important areas for birds. Thanks for reminding us.

    Liked by 1 person

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