By Deborah Huth Price
About 15 years ago, I looked out my backyard window and saw an interesting bird perched on the jungle gym. It just sat there, resting. Curious, I stepped outside with my camera and approached it. It didn’t move and didn’t appear concerned. I walked closer and snapped a photo. The bird stayed about 20 minutes and finally took off.
After a little investigation, I discovered the bird was a nighthawk, and was probably taking a rest during its migration. I was fascinated.
Although I enjoy watching birds, I would not consider myself a “birder.” Just identifying major species has been a big step for me. Even so, my knowledge about wildlife in the sky has increased through the years. This year, I decided to find out about the annual Great Backyard Bird Count, sponsored by the Cornell Lab or Ornithology and the Audubon Society.
Connie Kogler, known for spotting the rare streak-backed oriole in her Loveland backyard, is the Education Coordinator for Wild Birds Unlimited in Fort Collins. She took a group of us through the GBBC process, explaining that you could count birds anywhere, for at least 15 minutes. Considering my somewhat limited bird identification skills, I decided it was a good idea to count birds at my feeders where I could get close enough to notice markings and features. Trying to identify a bird flying overhead was a little too stressful to imagine.
While not a scientific survey, GBBC offers the chance to track populations, numbers, and migration patterns. This year’s Feb. 13-16 count has already yielded more than 600 species observed across the United States and Canada, and over 10 million individual birds. Lists are being submitted through March 1. For complete information, go to http://www.birdsource.org/gbbc.
The annual observation has brought to light a number of changes in populations. For instance, the Eurasian collared dove, similar to the mourning dove but sporting a black “collar” marking on its neck, first appeared in Florida in the 1980s, noted Kogler. Now the species is seen in 39 states and provinces across North America, including Colorado.
West Nile Virus has affected populations as well. “The American Crow was the fourth or fifth reported bird,” noted Kogler. “Since 2003, it has moved to ninth or 10th.”
The count also keeps track of the 10 most observed birds each year. Kogler shared the Colorado Top 10, from the number one most seen bird species, the Canada goose, to the 10th place cedar waxwing. In between, from second to ninth are the mallard, house finch, American robin, American goldfinch, dark-eyed junco, house sparrow, northern flicker and red-winged blackbird.
My bird feeders were full, and I watched patiently for my subjects to appear. They did, and they came in droves. How many finches was that? Was that a sparrow? Ah, a Eurasian collared dove — I know that one! So, I didn’t submit my numbers. I was too unsure. But I did appreciate all the money I’d invested in bird field guides, and I’m paying a little more attention to my feathered friends.
Deborah Huth Price is Education Coordinator at Bobcat Ridge Natural Area near Masonville, and also does education programming at Discovery Science Center in Fort Collins.