I am very excited about the Audubon Society and Cornell Lab of Ornithology's upcoming Great Backyard Bird Count. It takes place Friday-Monday, February 12-15, all over North America. Anyone can participate, even if you only have 15 minutes and are completely new to birding.
Here's how it works: You can pick a spot to go watch birds (a backyard, a park, a trail, a marsh, or anywhere you think birds might be) or you can join an organized event. You can download a very thorough check list of birds that are likely to be seen in your area. You record the birds that you see and then go home and either send in your checklist or enter the names and numbers in online.
There are lots more tips about counting and recording birds, tricky identifications, binoculars, and much more on BirdSource's Great Backyard Bird Count page. The site also features recordings of bird sounds and more activities for kids.
So, why count birds in the first place, and why now? The Cornell Ornithology Lab, the Audubon Society and others use the information from the annual February count to track the health of various bird
species over time and, in some cases, take steps to protect them. Mid-February has proven a good time to count, as it occurs just before the major Spring migrations. If you find you like counting, you can actually help year-round on various projects.
Last year 11,558,638 individual birds were reported by more than 100,000 people. This year you could be part of the Great Backyard Bird Count.
Photos: Painted Bunting and Green Honeycreeper by Doug Janson, Flame Colored
Tanager by Jerry Oldenettel, Blue Jay: Creative Commons, Northern
Spotted Owl by Susan Sachs Lipman