By John Wilson, Extension Educator
This week is much better, but if you’re like me, last week wasn’t good to do much of anything outside if you didn’t have to. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the outdoors. I know my wife and I both spent time watching the bird feeders behind our house on some of those cold, snowy days.
It’s amazing at the number of birds that come to the feeders. We’ve gotten to where we even name some of the regulars. Our highlight so far this winter was 23 cardinals (that we could count at one time) that came to our feeders late one afternoon after last week’s snowstorm.
Winter provides challenges for bird feeding. It’s easy for snow or rain to get into feeders and turn the seed moldy. This become a potential sources of illness for birds. So keep feeders clean to help prevent the spread of disease to backyard birds.
You should clean and disinfect feeders on a regular basis, taking care to scrape out old moldy seed that collects in corners. Wash feeders in warm water with dish soap and rinse. Disinfect with a solution of one part liquid chlorine bleach to nine parts warm water. Make sure feeders are completely dry before refilling with seeds.
It’s important to keep feeding birds once you start so they don’t become dependent on you as a food source, only to run out of food during periods of severe weather like we had last week. You know, the kind of days you really don’t want to go outside to fill the bird feeders.
Also, if possible, provide water for birds. This is extremely important during the winter because other sources of water may not be available. It seems chilly, but birds regularly use our heated bird bath. Besides water to drink, they use it to help keep their feathers clean which makes them “fluffier,” for lack of a better term, which gives them better insulation against bitter cold temperatures.
Now if you really enjoy bird watching, there’s an event this weekend you won’t want to miss … and you can take part from the comfort of their home. The 19th annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) will take place later this week, February 12-15. Participants are needed to count birds in their yards, neighborhoods, or other locations. Simply tally birds for at least 15 minutes on any day of the count, then go to www.birdcount.org and enter the highest number of each species seen at any one time.
This program is conducted worldwide. Coordinated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Audubon Society, and Bird Studies Canada, the count provides an instant snapshot of birdlife around the world. Last year, organizers received almost 150,000 checklists from more than 100 countries during the event. Also, you can watch as the tallies come in at www.birdcount.org.
You might be asking yourself, “Why count birds?” Bird populations are constantly changing. No single scientist or team of scientists could hope to keep track of the complicated patterns of movement of species around the world. The information from GBBC participants, combined with other surveys, helps scientists learn how birds are affected by environmental changes.
The information submitted can provide the first sign that individual species may be increasing or declining from year to year. Data gathered over many years help highlight how a species’ range may be expanding or shrinking. A big change, noted consistently over a period of years, is an indication that something is happening in the environment that is affecting the birds and that should receive attention. GBBC information also allows scientists to look at what kinds of birds inhabit different areas, such as cities and suburbs compared to more natural habitats.
Whether you observe birds in backyards, parks, or wilderness areas, the Great Backyard Bird Count is an opportunity to share their results at www.birdcount.org. It’s fun and rewarding for people of all ages and skill levels–and it gets people outside… or you can watch from inside, too!
So, to take part in this activity “for the birds,” go to www.birdcount.org for online instructions and tally sheets… then enjoy our feathered friends.