Grab your binoculars and get ready to watch for beaks, wings and tails. The 20th annual Great Backyard Bird Count is taking place Feb. 17-20.
One of the unique aspects of the event is that people can take part from any place where birds can be found, be it a park, waterway, nature trail or their very own backyard.
Bird watchers are asked to count the birds they see in at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count, then enter the list at http://gbbc.birdcount.org. With the gathered information, scientists have gained data on the distribution of birds around the world, noting changes over the past two decades.
“The very first GBBC was an experiment,” said Marshall Iliff of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “We wanted to see if people would use the Internet to send us their bird sightings. Clearly the experiment was a success!”
Around 13,500 checklists from the United States and Canada were turned in for the first Great Backyard Bird Count and last year, an estimated 163,763 bird watchers from more than 100 countries submitted 162,052 bird checklists. More than 5,600 species were reported, which is more than half of the known birds in the world.
In Harvey County, watchers can expect to see a variety of birds even in the cold winter months.
"Although it is small in comparison to most other counties in Kansas, Harvey County offers a diverse variety of habitats, making it one of the few Kansas counties with a checklist exceeding 300 species," states the Kansas Ornithological Society on their website (http://www.ksbirds.org). "Just a few miles east of Newton one begins to encounter the tallgrass prairies of the Flint Hills, while in the northwestern portion of the county is a relatively undisturbed expanse of sandhill prairie. In the southeastern corner are several small wetlands which have produced numerous significant bird records. Riparian habitats (especially those along the Little Arkansas River) offer excellent birding opportunities for woodland species at all seasons."
While bird feeders may attract the smaller species that are common in Kansas such as finches, sparrows and starlings, it's not unusual to spot bigger birds like hawks, falcons and owls soaring over fields in search of prey.
“The Great Backyard Bird Count is a great way to introduce people to participation in citizen science,” said Gary Langham, Audubon vice president and chief scientist. “No other program allows volunteers to take an instantaneous snapshot of global bird populations that can contribute to our understanding of how a changing climate is affecting birds.”
The Great Backyard Bird Count photo contest has gained tens of thousands of pictures. For the 20th anniversary of the GBBC, the public is invited to vote for their favorite photo from each of the past 11 years during the four days of the GBBC.
The Great Backyard Bird Count is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society with partner Bird Studies Canada and is sponsored in part by Wild Birds Unlimited.
For more information about the Great Backyard Bird Count, including downloadable instructions and an explanatory PowerPoint, visit http://gbbc.birdcount.org.