Time for annual bird count

It’s the annual Great Backyard Bird Count, in which ordinary folks of all ages count birds in their backyards, local parks, school grounds and other areas where birds congregate.

During the four-day count, simply tally all the birds you see or hear for at least 15 minutes or longer.

Then, report the results on a special data form at the Web site www.birdsource.org/gbbc. You also can get more details about the survey, some bird identification tips and other information on the Web site.

Each report, or checklist, submitted by “citizen scientists” helps researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the National Audubon Society and Bird Studies of Canada learn more about how the birds are doing — and how to protect them. For instance, data from the backyard bird counts suggest that fox sparrows are declining in Georgia but becoming more common in Pennsylvania, perhaps because of rising average winter temperatures.

On the other hand, given the intense cold spells that hit much of the nation this winter, it will be interesting to see if bird numbers are down. For instance, Carolina wrens, which are year-round residents in Georgia, are very sensitive to extreme cold and severe weather events.

Among all the states, territories and Canadian provinces, Georgia consistently ranks in the top 10 each year in participation. Continent-wide last year, participants turned in more than 93,600 checklists online, creating North America’s largest instantaneous snapshot of bird populations ever recorded. Of those, 3,763 checklists came from Georgia, placing the Peach State eighth in number of checklists submitted. Among North American cities, Atlanta ranked seventh.

For the highest number of bird species reported last year, Georgia ranked fifth in the nation with 208 species. (Texas was first with 341.) Among cities, Savannah was fifth highest with 152 species.

The dozen most common species seen in Georgia’s count last year were the American goldfinch, Northern cardinal, American robin, red-winged blackbird, chipping sparrow, mourning dove, pine siskin, cedar waxwing, Carolina chickadee, tufted titmouse, American crow and the house finch.

Some state parks and nature centers will hold special events next weekend in conjunction with the Great Backyard Bird Count. A listing can be found on the bird count’s Web site under “2010 Local Events.” The Chattahoochee Nature Center has a special program at 1 p.m. Feb. 14 to provide pointers on participating in the bird count. More information can be found at chattnaturecenter.org.

In the sky: The moon is in last-quarter phase, rising about midnight and setting around midday, says David Dundee, astronomer with Tellus Northwest Georgia Science Museum. Mercury, very low in the east, rises shortly before sunrise. It will appear near the crescent moon Friday morning. Venus is low in the west just after sunset. Mars rises out of the east at sunset and is visible through the night. Saturn rises out of the east a few hours before midnight. Jupiter cannot be easily observed right now.

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