Count the birds and become a ‘citizen scientist’

Want to be a scientist for a little while? Then spend at least 15 minutes this weekend and through Monday counting the individual birds and species that you see and hear in your yard, your neighborhood or elsewhere.

Then, report the results at www.BirdCount.org — all part of the annual Great American Backyard Bird Count sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society.

By participating, say the organizations, you become a “citizen scientist” helping to determine how our birds are doing. All bird-watchers — young or old, beginner or veteran, casual or intense — can participate. You can count the birds by yourself or with a group.

Thousands of Georgians take part each year, consistently placing Georgia in the top 10 states with the most participants. Among cities, Atlanta consistently ranks in the top 10 for the number of individuals or groups submitting the most checklists of birds seen or heard. Last year, the 368 checklists from Atlanta amounted to the fourth-highest number among cities in North America.

Georgia participants also counted a variety of birds — 193 species, the eighth-highest number among all states and Canadian provinces.

What was the most commonly reported bird in Georgia? It was the red-winged blackbird, which ranks year after year as one of the three most common birds seen in the state.

Although red-wings live year-round in Georgia, their population swells during winter when huge flocks of them migrate from up north and join our resident red-wings for the season.

The red-winged blackbird’s preferred habitats are marshes, wet meadows and other wetlands, especially where there are cattails. “Nearly every cattail marsh worthy of description in Georgia plays host to red-winged blackbirds during at least some part of the year,” says bird expert Giff Beaton in his book “Birds of Georgia.”

The species is named for the male’s bright red-and-yellow wing patches that sharply stand out against an otherwise glossy black body. Females are a subdued, streaky brown, almost like a large, dark sparrow.

This time of year, when wild food sources are growing scarce, small flocks of red-winged blackbirds may show up at backyard feeders — much to the consternation of some homeowners, who complain that the larger red-wings run off smaller birds. Others, like me, enjoy watching them.

IN THE SKY: The moon will be first quarter on Sunday, said David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer. Mercury is low in the west just after sunset. Venus is low in the east just before sunrise. Jupiter is high in the east just after dark and will appear near the moon on Monday night. Saturn rises out of the east just before midnight.

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