may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old
-e e cummings
If it looks like a duck,
and quacks like a duck,
we have to at least consider the possibility
that we have a small aquatic bird of the family anatidae on our hands.
-Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency
It’s here! It’s here!
I look forward every year to the Great Backyard Bird Count. It’s an opportunity for me to combine so many of my geeky favorites— birds, hiking, photography, field guides, counting, graphs— and for a good cause, too.
The GBBC is a four-day “citizen scientist” bird counting extravaganza across the country. Amateur birdwatchers can go out “in the field,” or cozily watch from their kitchen window. You’re only obligated to count for 15 minutes, but you can go all day if you’re cool like that.
It’s a great way to get kids outside and quietly attuned to nature as they listen for bird calls, or active and running around looking for birds in trees and bushes. It’s also a chance to sneak in a little extra education as you encourage them to use their field guides, sketch any birds not easily identified (I’m looking at you, sparrow species) for researching later on the internet, and then graphing and submitting your results.
After you’re done, you can print out a certificate for the fridge.
Your bird count numbers are entered into a national database which updates in real time, painting a picture of exactly where and how big bird populations of each type are. This helps scientists determine all kinds of stuff, like which species are declining, whether this year’s migration is happening earlier or later, and what birds prefer what sorts of areas.
This year will be particularly interesting as we determine whether all those weird bird die-offs that happened a few weeks back had any impact on overall numbers.
We’ll definitely be seeing everybody pictured here (except the duck, who I photographed at Disney but couldn’t resist including when I came across the Douglas Adams quote in my notebook), probably along with robins, cardinals, chickadees, finches, mourning doves, grackles, cowbirds, towhees, juncos, blue jays, pileated woodpeckers and a stray raptor or turkey vulture. (Owls we hear but rarely actually see. Too early yet for bluebirds or hummingbirds.)
It’s amazing how much life is bustling all around you, all the time.
I read earlier this week that a mayor in California is planning to broadcast birdsong through public speakers along Main Street. “Why? Because scientists tell us that if you use bird sounds, Cortisol level drops, your feeling of security enhances. Exposure to it 15 minutes a day will make you happier people.”
At first glance, this seems like a little too much clucking around for me. There’s birds everywhere, is it really necessary to amplify them? But then, I live in a rural area, and there’s not too much noise competing for my attention. And the pigeons that score the prime real estate in urban areas aren’t prodigious songsters like my wrens.
I’m curious to see if he follows through with his experiment, whether levels of depression and crime rates drop.
I propose you try your own experiment: lie down comfortably and count how many different bird calls you can pick out in a 15 minute period. You will all be wiggily at first; stick it out. See if your happiness is affected.
Have I talked you into it? You in?
Some pre-game kids’ activities are here (listen to bird calls, printable coloring sheets, etc).
I really like the Cornell Lab of Ornithology site for post-game bird identification.
Another nice idea is to jack your odds by putting out a bird feeder. This post has some easy homemade feeder ideas; there’s always the bird feeder made from a milk jug, milk carton or soda bottle; or you can just put out a plate with some bird seed on it. Make sure you sanitize it afterwards.
UPDATE: The Crafty Crow has a TON of super-cute bird-feeder ideas on her blog today.
You can input your data here (click on the birdy!)
Have a great weekend!
Lolli @ Better in Bulk invited me to play along with their weekly meme.
Go link up your photo post!
Hosted by Cecily and Lolli