Columns and Letters

Show the wild birds some love – join the Great Backyard Bird Count

-by Bonny MacIsaac

Show the wild birds some love – join the Great Backyard Bird Count

    This year, I am again delighted to be an ambassador for the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). The 23rd Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) will take place from Valentine's Day, Friday, February 14th, through Monday, February 17th. Volunteers from around the world are invited to count the birds they see for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count, then enter their checklists at Anyone with internet access can participate, no matter what their skill level - it’s a great family activity, too.
    There is no better time to get involved because we are facing a bird emergency. In a study published by the journal Science ( last fall, scientists revealed a decline of more than one in four birds in the United States and Canada since 1970 - three billion birds gone! In addition to these steep declines, Audubon scientists projected a grim future for birds in Survival By Degrees, a report showing nearly two-thirds of North America’s bird species could disappear due to climate change. (You can read that report here: Birds from around the world are facing similar challenges and declines. Counting birds for science is one simple action that individuals can take to protect birds and the places where they live.

    “In order to understand where birds are and how their numbers are changing, we need everybody's help,” says the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Marshall Iliff, a leader of the eBird program, which collects the GBBC data. “Without this information, scientists will not have enough data to show where birds are declining.” With more than 10,000 species in the world, it means all hands-on deck to monitor birds found in backyards and neighbourhoods as well as in suburban parks, wild areas, and cities.
    “Birds are important because they're excellent indicators of the health of our ecosystems. Participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count is one of the easiest and best ways to help scientists understand how our changing climate may be affecting the world’s birdlife,” says Chad Wilsey, interim Chief Scientist for National Audubon Society. “All over the world people are paying more attention to our environment and how it's changing. There’s a lot of bad news out there, but in just 15 minutes you can be part of a global solution to the crises birds and people are facing.”
    During the 2019 GBBC, bird watchers from more than 100 countries submitted more than 210,000 bird checklists reporting a record 6850 species – more than half the known bird species in the world. Bird count data become more and more valuable over time because they highlight trends over many years, apart from the normal short-term fluctuations in bird populations.
    “At times, we can feel like there’s little we can do on environmental issues,” says Steven Price, president of Birds Canada. “The Great Backyard Bird Count gives all bird enthusiasts a chance to help, as well as a great opportunity to include family and friends of all skill levels in a common conservation effort. Go out, have fun, and take heart that you are helping birds and nature!”
    The Great Backyard Bird Count is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society with partner Birds Canada and is made possible in part by founding sponsor Wild Birds Unlimited.
    To learn more about how to take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, visit  It's easy as one, two, three!
    1)  Register for the count or use your existing login name and password. If you have never participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count or any other Cornell Lab citizen-science project, you’ll need to create a new account. If you already created an account for last year’s GBBC, or if you’re already registered with eBird or another Cornell Lab citizen-science project, you can use your existing login information.
    2) Count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the GBBC. You can count for longer than that if you wish! Count birds in as many places and on as many days as you like – one day, two days, or all four days. Submit a separate checklist for each new day, for each new location, or for the same location if you counted at a different time of day. Estimate the number of individuals of each species you saw during your count period.
    3) Enter your results on the GBBC website by clicking “Submit Observations” on the home page. Or download the free eBird Mobile app to enter data on a mobile device. If you already participate in the eBird citizen-science project, please use eBird to submit your sightings during the GBBC. Your checklists will count toward the GBBC.
    Have 15 minutes? Join in and have fun! Let's show the birds some love! I hope you are pleasantly surprised!

    It is easy for us to not want to go out on cold stormy days to fill feeders but our feathered friends need our help especially in extremely cold temperatures. The Canadian Wildlife Service and the National Bird Feeding Society offer these great tips on how to be a good host to help the birds survive winter.
– They recommend refilling your feeders early in the morning. Being more generous after storms.
– If it's wet outside and you have platform feeders limit the amount of seed you leave on the platform so it won't end up being a soggy mess and not be eaten.
– Quite a bit of the seed you put out can fall into the snow and go to waste. To ensure the birds can eat what you offer, stomp the snow down under the feeder. That way if seeds drop, the ground feeding birds can get them with ease.
– Try to serve at least three kinds of food. Sunflower seeds, especially the black softer shelled variety, white proso millet, and beef suet. Suet is nothing more than pure beef fat but provides a great source of energy. A great treat for many species is a mixture of suet peanut butter and seeds. Here's a recipe that will not harm the birds. Add three cups of softened suet to one and a half cups each of peanut butter and cornmeal and 3 to 4 cups of wild bird seed. Pack into muffin tins and give one ‘muffin' at a time. The suet ensures that the birds will not choke on the peanut butter. Only offer fats in cold weather.
– The experts say to offer an amount of food you can afford each day. If your feeder is empty an hour later, don't worry about it. If you are consistent the birds will adjust their feeding habits and find food elsewhere.
– Put feeders far enough away from windows where you can still enjoy watching the birds but they will not crash into your windows.
– Remember winter is not the only season they need food. Bird-feeding year-round offers many delights, each changing with the season. Enjoy!




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