And still counting

Another Great Backyard Bird Count has come and gone. It was the GBBC of 2013 that got me into the birding game, and every year we get out our little notepad and jot down all the birds that we see in or around the yard. Then we submit the data to Science, and it becomes a small but essential piece of the puzzle. This year’s count was a pleasant affair, with mild temps and no rain. In contrast to the first one, where I sat on a hard wooden chair in the laundry room with my old binoculars and watched for birds through the backdoor, because it was freezing cold. There’s a little bit of climate change data for you.

I no longer have any expectation of seeing new birds in the backyard. I think we’ve pretty much seen everything that’s available in our area. But there are subtle shifts going on, and that’s making things pretty interesting. This year we’ve had tons of Pine Siskins, which were notably absent last year. And the nuthatches and woodpeckers are daily visitors now, when they had been a rarity. We’re even getting a lot of robins this year. We never get robins. Last year it was the finches that crowded around the feeder. They’re still here, but not nearly as numerous. The mockingbirds, towhees – even the little juncos – have been less frequently seen.

We’ve only known drought birding, and that’s easing up some, so maybe that explains the shift. Could also be that people aren’t watering their lawns and there are more dead trees around, which offer lots of bugs for the avian consumer.

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From time to time we’ll join a guided walk with smart long-time birders, and I’ve wondered, but have not asked, what they think about the observable trends. If I’d started birding thirty years ago, I’d probably be in a constant state of shock at what’s happened to the birds. Many species have seen declines of 50% or more in recent years. I’m just getting into birds now, so as far as I know it looks like there are plenty of birds. But for anyone who’s been paying attention, it must feel like there’s something missing.

I counted 22 different bird species over the GBBC weekend, and probably 200 individual birds in or around the backyard. Would I have seen 400 birds if we’d just saved a little more of their habitat in the past few years? Can’t we do something about that now? There are some really interesting success stories for birds and other wildlife that are given a safe haven or migration passageway. I’d like to see those bird numbers go up a little bit.

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