San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas
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February 13th, 2010
Bird count relies on 'citizen scientists' of all ages

021010carduseThe Cardinal is a familiar site in Hays County. Photo by Julie Smith.


It is once again time for the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), taking place Feb 11-15, hosted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Audubon and Bird Studies Canada. Texas is of particular interest to the count, as it leads the United States in diversity of birds, coming in at 477 different species.

The GBBC is a national program that helps scientists and researchers understand more about the bird population and how their fluctuations indicate how healthy or toxic the environment is. Last year, participants turned in more than 93,000 checklists online, which created the continent’s largest instantaneous snapshot of bird populations ever recorded.

Participation is simple. Participants count whatever local birds they see for at least 15 minutes or longer on one or more of the days of the count. Regional bird checklists and information on local birds is available at

When observers are finished counting, they go to the website and enter the results. Cornell and the GBBC call participants “citizen scientists” and stress the importance of residential observers contributing to biological research.

Audubon Education Vice President Judy Braus said, “Taking part in the Great Backyard Bird Count is a great way to get outside with family and friends, have fun, and help birds — all at the same time. Even if you can identify a few species, you can provide important information that enables scientists to learn more about how the environment is changing and how that affects our conservation priorities.”

Last year, 3,805 reports in Texas counted the most species nationwide. Anyone can take part in the count, from elementary school children to senior citizens. The count can take place wherever the observer can either get to a window, go to the yard or sit in a park to count the birds.

Janis Dickinson, Director of Citizen Science at the Cornell lab, said, “The GBBC is a perfect first step toward the sort of intensive monitoring needed to discover how birds are responding to environmental change. Winter is such a vulnerable period for birds, so winter bird distributions are likely to be very sensitive to change. There is only one way — citizen science — to gather data on private lands where people live, and the GBBC has been doing this across the continent for many years. GBBC has enormous potential both as an early warning system and in capturing and engaging people in more intensive sampling of birds across the landscape.”

More information on birds and bird behavior, as well as the GBBC, can be obtained by visiting

021010pinecoracasAnother familiar bird to Hays County residents is the Pine Siskin. Photo by Maria Coracas.

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