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Archive | Outdoors

Fish kills common during spring thaw

 

The Department of Natural Resources reminds everyone that after the ice and snow cover melts on Michigan’s lakes this early spring, it may be common to discover dead fish or other aquatic creatures. Winter conditions often can cause fish and other creatures such as turtles, frogs, toads and crayfish to die.

“Winterkill is the most common type of fish kill,” said DNR Fisheries Division Hatchery Manager and fish health expert Martha Wolgamood. “As the season changes it can be common in shallow lakes, ponds, streams and canals. These kills are localized and typically do not affect the overall health of the fish populations or fishing quality.”

Shallow lakes with excess aquatic vegetation and soft bottoms are prone to this problem. Canals in urban areas also are quite susceptible due to the large inputs of nutrient run-off and pollution from roads and lawns and septic systems that flow into these areas, particularly from large storm events.

Fish and other aquatic life typically die in late winter, but may not be noticed until a month after the ice leaves the lake because the dead fish and other aquatic life temporarily are preserved by the cold water. Fish also may be affected by rapid changes in water temperature due to unseasonably warm temperatures leading to stress and sometimes mortality. This is likely the case with the record or near record temperatures coupled with the large rain events Michigan experienced in February 2017.

Fish can become easily stressed in winter due to low energy reserves because feeding is at a minimum in winter. They then are less able to handle low oxygen and temperatures swings.

Dissolved oxygen is required by fish and all other forms of aquatic life. Once daylight is greatly reduced by ice and snow cover, aquatic plants stop producing oxygen and many die. The bacteria that decompose organic materials on the bottom of the lake use the remaining oxygen in the water. Once the oxygen is reduced and other aquatic animals die and start decomposing, the rate that oxygen is used for decomposition is additionally increased and dissolved oxygen levels in the water decrease even more, leading to increasing winterkill.

For more information on fish kills in Michigan, visit the DNR’s website. If you suspect a fish kill is caused by non-natural causes, call the nearest DNR office or Michigan’s Pollution Emergency Alert System at 1-800-292-4706.

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What is this white bird?

 

OUT-White-bird-newReuben Hoxsie, of Solon Township, brought in a photo he took at his home, of a white bird at one of his feeders. He said he thought it might be a white house finch, after looking at photos online.

We sent the photo to our resident expert, Ranger Steve Mueller and asked him what he thought it was, could it be a white house finch, and whether it could be an albino. He said it looks like a snow bunting. “They come here during the winter and head back north when winter begins to recede,” he explained. He also did not think it was an albino. “There are albinics that partially lack pigment but this bird does not look like that. It appears the bird is beginning to change to its breeding plumage.”

Thank you so much, Reuben, for the photo, and Ranger Steve, for your insight!

If you have wildlife photos you’d like to send us, please email them to news@cedarspringspost.com, with your name and contact info, and a short summary of the photo. Publication is only as space allows, and is not guaranteed.

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A Sand County Almanac

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

“There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot.”

“Like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher ‘standard of living’ is worth its cost things in natural wild, and free. For us in the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television and the chance to find a pasque-flower is a right as inalienable as free speech.” Aldo Leopold from the preface of A Sand County Almanac.

I stumbled upon the book in 1969. I did not know such good reading existed. Outdoor studies were where I experienced firsthand why geese are more important than television and discovered why finding rare flowers is an inalienable right. It was not until 1978 that I first found a pasque-flower in northwestern Minnesota at Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge. I can describe the experience like it happened last year.

Part 1 of a Sand County Almanac has wonderful prose for each of the twelve months. One gets steeped in the lives of wildlife and unknowingly is provided the basics for wildlife ecology and nature niches. The chapters are a delight. Part two is “Sketches Here and There.” It takes the reader on a journey across North America from Canada to Mexico. It relates how our quest for a “still higher standard of living” has diminished the quality of the environmental ecosystems and our lives. The almanac section provides essential basics that help the reader understand how the dilemmas described in part two impact the economy and esthetic quality of our lives.

The most significant section is part three called “The Upshot,” where Aldo presents a blueprint for maintaining a healthy biosphere. He demonstrates with science and emotional connections how we can pass on a healthy planet for future generations. Many, like me, have written about nature and wildlife or described conservation challenges we face. Few have provided a framework for forging a healthy and sustainable future for people and nature as well as Leopold. The book concisely laid out such a plan in 1949.

After reading the book, I meet Wakelin McNeel, who was a professor at Central Michigan University. He and I camped together in wild country. I learned he grew up with Leopold as a neighbor in Wisconsin. His dad and Aldo were close friends and Wake was friends with Leopold’s kids. I was told then that Leopold was probably the most significant conservationist of the 20th century.

When the 21st century rolled around, committees selected people for the 20th century’s most significant title in many endeavors. For conservationist of the century it came down to two people. One was Rachel Carson and the other was Aldo Leopold. Choosing one became impossible so both share the title.

If you have an inkling to enjoying nature through observation, growing plants, or hunting, I encourage you to read the book. I have been presenting a program titled “Wilderness–Unique Treasure” since 1974 based on the book. I insert prose of my own and that of poets and literary giants like Thoreau. Invite me to present the program for organizations such as conservation, hiking, hunting, fishing, birding, or botanical clubs.

“The Upshot” of the book establishes the importance of wilderness for recreation, science, and wildlife. It clearly articulates their value. I have taken pictures to illustrate the values of wilderness for present and future generations. Anticipate hearing me recite Leopold’s most famous piece titled “Thinking like A Mountain.”

I have read several great books and I am pleased to share in this book review; it can be a life changer beyond a pleasant read.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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What’s “bugging” you in our streams?: Volunteers needed for insect monitoring

Trout Unlimited National and Michigan Trout Unlimited will be holding a Stream Insect Monitoring Event on Saturday, May 6 at the Rockford Community Cabin.

Trout Unlimited National and Michigan Trout Unlimited will be holding a Stream Insect Monitoring Event on Saturday, May 6 at the Rockford Community Cabin.

In many cases we think bugs are a nuisance, but bugs in a stream can be very useful.  Stream insects are a good measure of water quality.  Unlike fish, stream insects cannot move around much so they are less able to escape the effects of sediment and other pollutants that diminish water quality. Stream insects can also be easily identified.

Trout Unlimited National and Michigan Trout Unlimited will be holding a Stream Insect Monitoring Event on Saturday, May 6, 2017 from 9:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. at the Rockford Community Cabin – 220 North Monroe Street in Rockford. Volunteers will be assigned to a monitoring group with a team leader. Each group will collect and identify insects from different stream sites in the Rogue River watershed. You don’t need any experience with stream insects to participate and all ages are welcome.

What will you need?  Please RSVP to Jamie Vaughan at jvaughan@tu.org or 312-391-4760 if you would like to attend.  Lunch will be provided for all volunteers.  Please bring waders if you have them and dress for the weather conditions. Children under 16 years old need to be accompanied by an adult.

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Volunteers needed for frog and toad survey

Fowler’s toad is one of the species in decline in Michigan.

Fowler’s toad is one of the species in decline in Michigan.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is seeking volunteers throughout the state to assist with its annual frog and toad survey.
Declining populations of frogs, toads and other amphibians have been documented worldwide since the 1980s. Studies suggest amphibians are disappearing due to habitat loss, pollution, disease and collection.

Michigan’s annual survey efforts help biologists monitor frog and toad abundance and distribution in the state.

“Fowler’s toads and mink frogs have a limited range in Michigan, unlike most other species that occur statewide,” said Lori Sargent, the DNR’s frog and toad survey coordinator. “Over the past 20 years, through analyzing the survey data collected, we’ve noticed a decline in these two species in Michigan.”

The surveys are conducted by volunteer observers along a statewide system of permanent survey routes, each consisting of 10 wetland sites. These sites are visited three times during spring, when frogs and toads are actively breeding. Observers listen for calling frogs and toads at each site, identify the species present, and make an estimate of abundance.

Sargent said new volunteers are needed in all parts of the state, and the continued success of the survey is dependent on strong volunteer support. Those interested in volunteering should contact Lori Sargent at 517-284-6216 or SargentL@michigan.gov.

Michigan has the second-longest-running such survey in the country, after Wisconsin.

More information on the frog and toad survey and other projects supported by the Nongame Fish and Wildlife Fund is available at mi.gov/wildlife

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Long-shadowed forest speaks silently

Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve Mueller

The groundhog saw his shadow if he woke from hibernation in 34-degrees fahrenheit temperatures. Instead, I expect it continued its chilly winter’s sleep with a body temperature of about 40F. Unconscious to the world above, it does not even wake to poop. Instead it remains in a shadow free subterranean cavity feeding on its plump body’s stored fat.

Cold mid-teen temperatures swept in from the northwest as high pressure brought dense air and clear skies during the night in early February.

The following day remained cloudless and sunny. The late afternoon beauty was too compelling to resist. Unlike the groundhog, I was conscious and drawn to venture into the big woods.

Wild Turkeys left trails with a center toe drag mark between steps. Two side toes glided over the four-inch deep snow without touching. The fourth, rear toe, did not leave a trace except when placed on the ground. Within the track imprint was a gray shadow protected from direct sunlight by the day’s late low-angled light. The un-shadowed snow surface glistened white from the falling sun in the western sky.

The cold following the recent snow kept it fresh, light, and unconsolidated. Wind could move it crystal by crystal. It was not cold enough for the snow to squeak under my footsteps. Instead the lowering sun on the horizon was making trees tell me they were taller than they are. By casting their long silent shadows great distances on a clean white snow palate, trees boasted a tall stature that did not exist.

Turkeys and trees were not the only painters marking the palate. A fox walked nearly straight lines with diversions to investigate brushy areas where cottontail rabbits sought shelter. Deer mice left four footprints and a tail drag mark on the fluffy snow surface. The fox was not fooled into wasting energy following mice tracks that would not provide a meal.

The mouse traveled about 150 feet before its light weight and tiny tracks that barely penetrated the snow surface disappeared through a small hole in the snow near a tree trunk. In a few places, it appeared a minor earthquake broke the flat snow surface and raised the ground cover leaving one long crack with several radiating fissures to the sides. I was unable to decipher what had moved beneath the snow to leave its silent telltale mark.

Fallen trees provide short shadows from horizontal trunks. Squirrels bounded between standing tree trunks to prostrate logs where tracks disappeared at one end and reappeared at the far end. Rabbit tracks looked much like squirrel tracks but circumvented logs to stay on the ground. They went around erect trees unlike squirrel tracks that disappeared at the base of standing trees.

Squirrel leaf nests high in trees blocked sun passage and showed dark balled shadows among the intricate gray branch shadows cast to the ground. Though it was quiet, the long shadowed forest was speaking loudly of its inhabitants.

I returned to my comfortable nest with a west-facing window to put pen to paper as the sun filtered light through pine trees during the last moments of day. Birds had quit feeding at feeders and darkness of night would soon replace the long shadowed forest with an even blackness. In a couple weeks, a full moon will cast shadows during the night when I will be compelled to take a night hike in a same yet different long-shadowed forest. Lighted by moon instead of sun, it will be a different world. Perhaps then I will hear the audible hoots of the Great Horned Owl.

For now, pine branch shadows lighted from behind by the setting sun cast shadows on my face to remind me I am a part of the pine’s nature niche.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Free fishing weekend this Saturday and Sunday

Adults and youths alike can have fun exploring Michigan’s winter fishing opportunities during the 2017 Winter #MiFreeFishingWeekend

Adults and youths alike can have fun exploring Michigan’s winter fishing opportunities during the 2017 Winter #MiFreeFishingWeekend

Everyone in Michigan is invited to fish for free Saturday, Feb. 18, and Sunday, Feb. 19, for the 2017 Winter Free Fishing Weekend. A license is not required to fish for those two days, but all other fishing regulations still apply.
These two days make up #MiFreeFishingWeekend—an annual effort to promote Michigan’s world-class fishing opportunities. While many individuals and families will bundle up and head out to fish for free on their own, the DNR points out that there are several organized events scheduled throughout the state to celebrate the weekend, too. Some of these events include:

  • Free Fishing Festival (Bay County) Feb. 18, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Join this annual event at the Saginaw Bay Visitor Center at Bay City State Recreation Area where tons of winter recreation activities are highlighted.
  • 8th annual Wakefield Volunteer Fire Department Ice Fishing Contest (Gogebic County) Feb. 18, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Participate in this annual ice fishing contest where lots of prizes are raffled off.
  • Wild about Winter Activity Day (Van Buren County) Feb. 18, 11 a.m. and 1 and 3 p.m. Visit the Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery in Mattawan for its Ice Fishing 101 course, held at three separate times. Additional on-site activities will include snowshoeing, a winter scavenger hunt and much more.
  • Family Ice Fishing (Wexford County) Feb. 18,  noon to 4 p.m. Come to the Carl T. Johnson Hunt and Fish Center in Cadillac for an on-the-ice experience and learn how to ice fish.

OUT-Free-fishing2-ice-safety-tipsPlease note that all events are subject to weather conditions. Even if there is no fishable ice in certain parts of the state this weekend, other types of fishing may be available. Also, during the 2017 Winter #MiFreeFishingWeekend no DNR Recreation Passport is required for entry to any state park or recreation area.

There are many other events scheduled in locations throughout the state. Information about these events, including those listed above, can be found at Michigan.gov/freefishing.

Michigan has celebrated the Winter Free Fishing Weekend every year since 1994. With more than 3,000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline, tens of thousands of miles of rivers and streams, and 11,000 inland lakes, Michigan and fishing are a natural match.

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Bird sightings peer review

 

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

People have opportunity to list birds from their yards or anywhere in the World to ebird. Google ebird for what has been sighted in the neighborhood, county, state, and nation. Select species of interest or “Birding Hotspots.”

Three friends and I went to the Maple State Area to find Long-eared Owls, Short-eared Owls and another species we might encounter that was listed on ebird. The owls have summer nature niches in the far north but come here for winter. As we traveled M-57, we saw a Rough-legged Hawk. It is another far north species that comes here in winter. A Bald Eagle perched in a tree just west of Carson City.

Near the corner of Taft and Woodbridge in Gratiot County, we observed the Short-eared Owls feeding just before dusk. We were there 4:45 to 5:30 p.m. It was a wonderful experience. Because these birds are not frequently seen, we talked with people from Midland and Detroit that came thanks to ebird postings.

In our more restricted area, Carol Van Oeveren searches ebird daily for species of interest and her husband Fred updates the Grand Rapids Audubon website several times a day. Google Grand Rapids Audubon and explore the website. You can find current sightings for Kent, Ottawa, and Muskegon Counties. Go chase birds.

When people post unusual sightings to ebird that are out of normal range, or seem unlikely for some reason they are automatically flagged. The lister will receive an e-mail requesting information to verify sighting accuracy.

I am entering data from my 1960 and 70’s journals. The Red-headed Woodpeckers get flagged because their numbers have plummeted. In the 1960’s they were common. They fed on insects that were in elm trees treated with DDT. The pesticide greatly impacted woodpeckers, robins, and many species. I remind the reviewers that even though Red-headed Woodpeckers are rare now, they were common in the 1960’s. They are still found near Wolf Lake north Baldwin but my listings get flagged annually when I post. I simply provide supportive data.

Some birders are offended when their sightings are questioned. If one is not a scientist, questioning might seem strange. Science journals require peer review before a paper is accepted for publication. Things that appear questionable are marked and sent back to the author(s) for better clarification. If the information is not convincingly accurate to peer experts in the subject area, the paper is not accepted for publication.

Peer review is critical to help make sure scientific methods used were excellent. It helps make sure conclusions drawn from the data collected are supported with physical evidence. That is why things like human enhanced climate change is accepted by 97 percent of climate scientists. The same process is used regarding bird studies. An ornithologist (bird scientist) is not permitted to enter flawed study results easily. When a paper is published and other scientists question the accuracy or conclusions, they might conduct studies to support or refute the conclusions. Science requires repeated verification supporting conclusions even if they are correct.

Citizen science e-birders should be pleased when some sightings get flagged. It helps posting accuracy and helps the birder review their sighting for accuracy and careful identification. People have reported Pine Grosbeaks to me that were House Finches. Errors are easy. Even though citizen science review does not have the rigor of scientific review, its helps maintain quality ebird postings.

It is a public disservice when peer reviewed studies are not allowed for release to the public like recently occurred with the president’s order to end climate research by the EPA and now requires that politicians decide what will be released to the public instead of scientific peer reviewers. Citizen ebird postings provide data for scientists use to document climate change. You can help scientists keep access to data that has ebird peer review. Despite government censoring or stopping peer reviewed scientific research, you can help scientists by enjoying birds in your yard or by getting outdoors for fun bird chasing and by entering sightings to ebird.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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Make your own bird feeders

 

A home-made bird feeder can attract many species. This is a Chestnut-backed Chickadee, which is found on the West Coast and in the Pacific Northwest. Photo by Phil Khaler.

A home-made bird feeder can attract many species. This is a Chestnut-backed Chickadee, which is found on the West Coast and in the Pacific Northwest. Photo by Phil Khaler.

From Cornell Lab of Ornithology, BirdSleuth K-12

Birds need steady sources of food throughout the year to survive cold nights, migration, and harsh weather. This makes bird feeders of any kind perfect for birds! There are many options available for feeders both online and in stores. But sometimes, the best thing to do is to make your own.Here are some simple feeders that can easily be made with household items!

Pine cone feeders

What you will need:

  • string
  • pinecones
  • peanut butter
  • bird seed (any type)

This feeder is simple and easy to make, costing very little, and easily reused or disposed of when done. Pine cones can be found outside near pine trees or often bought in craft stores.

Take a pine cone and gently brush off any lingering dirt.

Tie a string in a secure loop around the top of the pine cone, leaving enough to tie it to a tree or pole. Alternatively, use a pipe cleaner or twist tie.

Carefully spread a generous layer of peanut butter on the pine cone, making sure that the outside is well covered. Note: If you have peanut allergies to consider, try using almond butter, coconut oil, or Crisco.

Roll your pine cone in bird seed until it is well covered.

Using smaller seeds like millet, milo, and nyjer will ensure that everything sticks better, but mixed seed or black-oil sunflower seed will work too so long as they are well-attached.

Hang your feeder on a tree branch or pole not too close to your window and watch the birds enjoy their winter feast!

*Note: Squirrels love this kind of feeder so be sure to hang it somewhere it will be difficult for squirrels to reach like on thin branches several feet off the ground.

 

Bird Seed Cookies. Photo by Heather Katsoulis.

Bird Seed Cookies. Photo by Heather Katsoulis.

Bird seed cookies

These feeders are festive and easy to make.

What you will need:

  • 2 cups bird seed (any type)
  • cookie cutters
  • 1 packet unflavored gelatin
  • 2 tablespoons cold water
  • 1/3 cup boiling water
  • string
  • skewer
  • non-stick cooking spray

Spray your cookie cutters with non-stick spray to make the cookies easier to pop out.

Empty 1 package of unflavored gelatin into a bowl with 2 tablespoons of cold water. Let this sit for 1 minute. Add 1/3 cup of boiling water to the gelatin, stirring for a few minutes or until the gelatin is dissolved. This is the binder that keeps seeds together.

Next add 2 cups of bird seed to the gelatin and mix thoroughly.

On a tray or sheet of wax paper, lay out your desired cookie cutters. Fill the cookie cutters with the mixture and press into shape firmly. Make a small hole in each cookie with the skewer for the string.

Place in the refrigerator for a few hours to allow the seed mixture to set. After setting warm to room temperature before removing the cakes from the pan. Carefully pop the cookies out of their molds and thread a string through the hole. Hang the ornaments from a tree, pole, or hook outside your windows and watch the birds devour them!

Recycled feeders

We’ll let you in on a little secret: plastic containers make great bird feeders. Our friends at the Chebeague Island School have made bird feeders out of re-purposed yogurt containers to great success.

It’s easy to make your own feeder using anything from a square milk container to a round yogurt container!

What you will need:

  • medium-sized plastic container (milk, yogurt, juice, etc.)
  • scissors or box cutter
  • single hole punch or skewer
  • string
  • thin wooden dowels or spoons

Wash out your desired container and let it dry completely. Then very carefully cut out several small holes along the sides near the bottom*. Make sure they are large enough for a bird’s head to fit inside but small enough that a bird will not be able to climb inside.

*If you are using a square container, you can cut one large opening in the side so that birds may perch and feed.

Punch two small holes about the size of your dowels on opposite side of your container just below the openings you have cut. Insert the dowels into these holes so that the ends of the wood stick out on both sides. These will serve as perches for the feeding birds.

Punch two holes at the top of your container and thread a string through in a large loop. Fill your new feeder with desired birdseed and hang near your house. Be sure to hang it somewhere where birds will have space to perch.

From http://www.birdsleuth.org/diy-feeders/

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The Great Backyard Bird Count

This Red-tailed Hawk photo was taken by Peter Ferguson, 2015 GBBC.

This Red-tailed Hawk photo was taken by Peter Ferguson, 2015 GBBC.

Join the Great Backyard Bird Count Feb. 17-20

Launched in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, the Great Backyard Bird Count was the first online citizen-science project to collect data on wild birds and to display results in near real-time.

Now, more than 160,000 people of all ages and walks of life worldwide join the four-day count each February to create an annual snapshot of the distribution and abundance of birds.

We invite you to participate! For at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count, February 17-20, 2017, simply tally the numbers and kinds of birds you see. You can count from any location, anywhere in the world, for as long as you wish!

If you’re new to the count, or have not participated since before the 2013 merger with eBird, you must create a free online account to enter your checklists. If you already have an account, just use the same login name and password. If you have already participated in another Cornell Lab citizen-science project, you can use your existing login information, too. Go to http://gbbc.birdcount.org/get-started/ to get started.

In 2016, Great Backyard Bird Count participants in more than 130 countries counted 5,689 species of birds on more than 162,000 checklists!

During the count, you can explore what others are seeing in your area or around the world. Share your bird photos by entering the photo contest, or enjoy images pouring in from across the globe. You can also add photos and sounds to your checklist.

Your help is needed every year to make the GBBC successful!

Then keep counting throughout the year with eBird (www.ebird.org) which uses the same system as the Great Backyard Bird Count to collect, store, and display data any time, all the time.

Why count birds?

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 and understand the complex distribution and movements of so many species in such a short time.

Scientists use information from the Great Backyard Bird Count, along with observations from other citizen-science projects, such as the Christmas Bird Count, Project FeederWatch, and eBird, to get the “big picture” about what is happening to bird populations. The longer these data are collected, the more meaningful they become in helping scientists investigate far-reaching questions, like these:

  • How will the weather and climate change influence bird populations?
  • Some birds, such as winter finches, appear in large numbers during some years but not others. Where are these species from year to year, and what can we learn from these patterns?
  • How will the timing of birds’ migrations compare with past years?
  • How are bird diseases, such as West Nile virus, affecting birds in different regions?
  • What kinds of differences in bird diversity are apparent in cities versus suburban, rural, and natural areas?

The Great Backyard Bird Count is led by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, with Bird Studies Canada and many international partners. The Great Backyard Bird Count is powered by eBird. 

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