Tag Archives: ebird

One bird, two bird, three bird, more: participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count this weekend!

Today we are hearing from Division of Migratory Birds volunteer Lee Halasz.

Today we are hearing from Division of Migratory Birds volunteer Lee Halasz.

Winter is the perfect time to begin identifying birds in the Northeast. There are fewer species around, and smaller total numbers of birds than at other times of the year. The birds may even be at fairly close range near a feeder, so you may not even need binoculars to see the important features.

This weekend, February 13-16 is the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). During these dates, birders all over the world will be going birding (participants can go birding anywhere, not just at their homes). One goal of the event is to encourage more people to take notice of the birds around them. Last year, more than 142,000 people from 135 countries received observations of over 4,200 species.

Tufted Titmouse is a hardy winter species often found at backyard bird feeders.

Tufted Titmouse is a hardy winter species often found at backyard bird feeders.

It is very easy and flexible to participate. During the GBBC simply spend at least 15 minutes identifying the bird species that you see, and estimate the numbers of each species. Participants can submit their sightings through the eBird portal on the GBBC website. The Great Backyard Bird Count provides an important snapshot of bird populations. While birds are everywhere, scientists are not, and by getting people to participate in as many places as possible, it will allow a lot of important information to be collected. Your participation will ensure that ‘your’ birds are counted.

The Black-capped Chickadee is a common winter species.

The Black-capped Chickadee is a common winter species.

Data collected from previous years has helped reveal migration patterns, year-to-year variation in species numbers, and long-term population trends. While your participation may seem a modest contribution, the more people that get involved, the more meaningful the results will be.

So, dig out and brush off that bird field guide lying around your home (or use some of the electronic resources available on the website), and gain an appreciation of the birds that survive and even thrive in a Northeast Winter.

Citizen science to make a difference for the rusty blackbird

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The rusty blackbird, a close relative to the grackle, is one of North America’s most rapidly declining species.

If you look carefully into the wooded swamps and woodlands of a boreal forest of our northern states, you may catch a glimpse of one, distinct in appearance from other blackbirds with its rusty featheredges and pale yellow eyes. Rusty blackbirds can also be spotted in our region into late summer and fall as they migrate from these breeding grounds towards their wintering areas in the southern U.S.

Once common, populations have dropped 85 to 95 percent in the last 40 years. The cause of the dramatic decline in numbers is unclear. While extensive loss of wooded forests and wetlands to agriculture on their wintering grounds is a likely factor, the principle cause is unknown. Scientists hypothesize that there is a “perfect storm” of factors that also includes:

  • competition for food with more common blackbirds,
  • increased exposure to disease,
  • climate change drying out habitat on their breeding grounds, and
  • high levels of mercury in their bodies, which might affect overall health.

The International Rusty Blackbird Working Group believed that the mystery of the rusty blackbird decline and its large range made it a perfect candidate for a citizen science project. Thus, the Rusty Blackbird Spring Migration Blitz from early March through mid June this year.

“The Migration Blitz will provide new information on migration timing and migratory hot spots that will help us focus conservation efforts for this species where and when they will have the greatest impact.” says Randy Dettmers, one of our biologists studying the bird’s behavior.

Birders from 38 U.S. states, 9 Canadian provinces and 3 Canadian territories tracked these elusive songbirds on their northward migration from the southeastern U.S. up through Canada and into Alaska. Presence or absence information is entered into the Cornell lab of Ornithology eBird site, and scientists will use the data from the Blitz to target future conservation efforts and research initiatives.

During the first full month of the Blitz, birders submitted 6,281 checklists into eBird that included location information of rusty blackbirds–a 41 percent increase from 2013. These data provide much more than the typical snapshot of a single location; it’s like a collective collage that shows a much fuller picture. While the final tallies are still coming in, if the upward trend of submitted information continues, there will be a wealth of knowledge for scientists to sort through.

The Blitz presented a unique opportunity for citizens to both get outside and enjoy nature in the spring, and to actively participate in an effort that sets a new precedent for conservation.

“The Blitz focuses on rusties, but it also demonstrates the power and potential for leveraging citizen science for conservation,” noted Blitz coordinator Judith Scarl of the Vermont Center for Ecostudies.

Even though the rusties have already passed through many of our region’s states, there’s some fascinating birding to be done this month. Check out these tips from eBird!