[Ed. note: this article is part of our series of weekly family activities called Family Fun, published on Fridays.]
Calling citizen scientists!
Next week, February 12 -15 2010, there’s a fun and easy opportunity for your family to contribute to conservation science – from the comfort of your own home! The Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual event harnessing the eyes of the nation for the preservation of our precious avian amigos. It’s organized by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audubon, the nation’s leading bird research and conservation institutions.
As the website explains, “Scientists and bird enthusiasts can learn a lot by knowing where the birds are. Bird populations are dynamic; they are constantly in flux. No single scientist or team of scientists could hope to document the complex distribution and movements of so many species in such a short time. We need your help.”
Here’s what you do:
1. Click on the GBBC website to get some more background info. You might want to watch the powerpoint video where the whole thing is laid out clearly. Then click on the link for kids so your children can read about it for themselves, or if they’re too young, read it to them. There are puzzles, games and quizzes to get children engaged, as well as posters and opportunities to let others know about the event.
2. The children may want to take it from there (somehow when my kids get to use the computer any topic just becomes more interesting…) and peck around the site for more details. You can’t enter the information until February 12, but you can see what data will be requested. It’s also helpful to download a bird checklist for your area – this is a comprehensive list of all species observed in your locality. You might want to see pictures of some of your local species in a field guide or on Whatbird.com, where you can type in a bird name and up pops a picture of it.
3. Discuss with your children what day(s) and time(s) you can do the count, and where you all want to do it. It doesn’t have to be at home, it can be at a park or nature preserve too. The minimum amount of time is one 15 minute spot. Have the children write it on the calendar. Put it on your personal calendar so you don’t forget!
4. Take a look at the pics of common birds on the GBBC website. Talk about them with your children. Perhaps ask which is their favorite and why. Or count how many different colors each bird has. Compare their patterns. Look at their positions – on the ground, on a tree branch, sideways on a tree trunk. Anything that helps with noticing the distinctive field marks and behavior.
5. Perhaps draw some pictures together of the common birds and put them on the wall between now and next week!
6. When the time comes, follow the instructions for doing the count and submitting your results online! Give yourselves a pat on the back for joining in with leading efforts to monitor bird populations around the country and giving your family a chance to do some real science!
If you want to try to attract more birds before the count, read our post about installing birdfeeders. It can take a week or two for birds to find new feeders, but even if they show up mostly after the count, you’ll still be glad you did it!
Feed the Birds in the Bleak Midwinter – Birdfeeding basics
Winter Backyard Birding Part 2 - Creative ways your family can identify and get to know your backyard birds