Pennsylvania Game Commission officials are encouraging bird and nature fans throughout the state to join tens of thousands of everyday North American bird watchers for the 2013 Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), Feb. 15-18.
A joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, this free event is an opportunity for families, students, and people of all ages to discover the wonders of nature in backyards, schoolyards, and local parks, and, at the same time, make an important contribution to conservation.
"This project is a great way to 'Connect with Wildlife' starting at home," said Carl G. Roe, Game Commission executive director. "Participants count birds and report their sightings online; it doesn't get any easier."
Participants can report at <a href="http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc" target="_blank">www.birdsource.org/gbbc</a>.
"These types of activities provide the citizen-scientist with an opportunity to help wildlife," said Doug Gross, Game Commission biologist. "Anyone who can identify even a few species can contribute to our knowledge, the occurrence and abundance of birds in winter and the importance of private lands to wildlife. Thousands of Pennsylvania landowners enjoy birds and other animals on their property. The Game Commission is committed to involving the general public in monitoring bird populations and helping landowners improve their property for wildlife.
"Additionally, this is a great opportunity for beginning bird watchers to hone their skills, and for all participants to enjoy the winter landscape. The project is a great entry into bird surveys, allowing and encouraging mentoring within families and between friends. Learning about birds and other wildlife often starts in your own backyard."
Last year, observers reported 17.4 million birds of 600 species in the United States and Canada. These records represent 104,000 checklists.
Participants are asked to count birds for at least 15 minutes on at least one day of the event and reporting their sightings online at <a href="http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc" target="_blank">www.birdsource.org/gbbc</a>. Additional online resources include tips to help identify birds, a photo gallery, and special materials for educators.
"The project goes beyond artificial feeding stations and includes planted and naturally-occurring vegetation that attracts and protects birds," Gross said.
Those submitting reports to the GBBC website also are encouraged to contribute bird sightings by registering at Pennsylvania eBird website managed by the Game Commission. The GBBC information is combined with eBird data, but is concentrated on private lands.
To learn more about bird projects that the Game Commission encourages the public to participate, visit the agency's website (<a href="http://www.pgc.state.pa.us/" target="_blank">www.pgc.state.pa.us</a>) and click on "Wildlife" in the menu bar at the top of the page, then choose "Birding and Bird Conservation," as well as "Pennsylvania eBird Website."
"The Game Commission was the first state wildlife agency to host and manage a state eBird website, which is dedicated to helping birders throughout North America and the world record their bird observations and improve our understanding of the use of bird habitat and seasonal bird activities," Gross said.
With the ability to make each bird record site-specific, the data collected helps the Game Commission and other wildlife researchers understand the importance of particular locations to birds and bird population trends, information that is critical for effective conservation. These efforts enable everyone to see what would otherwise be impossible: a comprehensive picture of where birds are in late winter and how their numbers and distribution compare with previous years.
"Last year, there was a big invasion of snowy owls," Gross said. "This winter seems to feature conifer birds, such as pine siskin, red-breasted nuthatch and crossbills that have travelled to Pennsylvania due to natural crop failures to the north. Each winter provides its own surprises."
Each year, in addition to entering their tallies, participants submit thousands of digital images for the GBBC photo contest. Many are featured in the popular online gallery.
Visit <a href="http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc" target="_blank">www.birdsource.org/gbbc</a> to learn more, including highlights from the 2012 GBBC.