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Looking for something wild and crazy to do over the Valentine week-end

Cuddling Up with Your Chickadee

Sharon Thompson
Robin Photo by Anne K Moore

Looking for something wild and crazy to do over the Valentine weekend? Grab your binoculars and head outdoors - or better yet, stay indoors - and count birds.

It’s just that easy to become a citizen scientist.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society have organized several bird count events during the winter that rely on data from people like you and me. Each of these counts provides ornithologists (scientists who study birds) with valuable information about the distribution of North America’s birds and responses to environmental changes.  

Coming up in a few weeks is the Great Backyard Bird Count – GBBC for short – on February 12-15, 2010. This requires nothing more than counting the birds in your backyard, a park, field or any other place you happen to be, for at least 15 minutes on any or all of the count days, then reporting the results - an easy time commitment that just about anyone could embrace. Last year over 94,000 people participated, counting over 11 million birds.

The GBBC website ( provides everything you need to know about equipment (binoculars and enthusiasm), reporting data (electronically or by mail) and bird identification.

If it’s any consolation to the bird challenged, most of the top ten birds found at feeders during the 2009 GBBC are easy to identify: cardinal, mourning dove, dark-eyed junco, downy woodpecker, American goldfinch, blue jay, house finch, tufted titmouse, black-capped chickadee and crow.

These and hundreds of other birds are pictured on the website and by clicking the bird’s photo, information pops up including an audio file of its song and call. This is one way to learn to identify birds without having to see them – something I’m trying to learn how to do. So far, I’m feeling confident about the “hoo-hooing” of the great horned owl that lives in our woods, the chickadee’s gentle “buzz-squawk” and the mockingbird’s medley.

If you are into statistics, you can go to the map section and see what states (Pennsylvania) and cities (Mentor, Ohio) submitted the most 2009 checklists. No surprise that the biggest variety of species was observed in communities along the U. S. coastlines.

If you have other “how to count” questions, be sure to go to the FAQ section. It will tell you how to be sure you are not counting the same bird over and over and how to estimate flock size – a formula I plan to use the next time a flock of red-winged blackbirds takes over my backyard.

In the “Learn About Birds”, be sure to read the section about buying and using binoculars. Good binoculars will easily let in enough light to see who is at your feeder at any time of day. I didn’t realize how much I was missing until I replaced my old set – sort of like getting your bifocal prescription up-dated.

Now all this bird watching is assuming you have a feeder or two in your yard. And who doesn’t? Some of us go into overdrive on feeding equipment: I have eight at last count, which may be excessive or just average, I’m not sure. But, don’t forget that water is the number one reason birds visit a location; food encourages them to hang around. 

If you are interested in participating in a longer bird count, click on Project Feeder Watch at the same website. Although it began in November, registration is open until the end of February.  Go to for information about both bird counts.

Just imagine you and your honey snuggled at the kitchen window on Valentine’s Day counting the birds at your feeders. Gives a whole new meaning to “my little chickadee” doesn’t it.



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