For more than a hundred years, the National Audubon Society has educated the public on wildlife’s benefit to humanity. It has protected and restored wildlife habitats and implemented policies safeguarding birds and other animals.

Since 1998, novice bird watchers and experienced Birders have participated in “The Great Backyard Bird Count.” This four-day, mid-Feb. event is sponsored by the Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. During the event, more than 160,000 people in 130 countries report on the species and number of birds seen at a specific location. Anyone of any age is invited to count birds for a minimum of 15 minutes, or as long as they want, during the four days, then report their sightings online.

In addition to the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count, these citizen scientists collect vital data about shifting migratory patterns, influence of weather and climate change, environmental impact, and other important issues affecting bird populations.

As a novice bird watcher, and Southwest resident, I thought it might be fun to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count. I have been on brief bird watching outings with the local Audubon chapter and had a moderately good idea of what was expected.

Taking my limited knowledge of birding and my binoculars, I bundled up and headed for a grassy area near the Anacostia River. Supposedly, the key to successful birding is getting out early when the little guys are foraging for breakfast. Although, finding species that prefer foraging for brunch or a late lunch is much more conducive to my schedule.

Clipboard in hand, I stood in ankle deep snow, ready to meticulously record the number and species of birds I saw. Within 45 minutes, I recorded three Winter Wrens, eight Blue Jays, twelve Mallards, seven European Starlings, and thirty-four Canadian Geese. I planned on staying longer, but my feet were frozen inside my boots and that cute, TV weather guy on channel 4 was predicting freezing rain.

This year marks the 22nd annual Great Backyard Bird Count. It goes from Friday, Feb. 15 through Monday, Feb. 18. Information on how to participate, registration, and help with identifying species can be found at http://gbbc.birdcount.org.

Whether you are a beginner birdwatcher, an expert Birder, or a tenacious Twitcher, the Great Backyard Bird Count is a fun way to spend a cold winters’ day and contribute to an important scientific study.

Grab your field guide, notebook, binoculars, a Thermos of hot coffee, and remember to dress warmly. Where you count is not important. Choose a meadow, riverbank, city park or even your own backyard.

By Deborah Jones Sherwood

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