If you’ve ever thought about getting your kids or grandkids interested in birdwatching, this upcoming weekend might be the perfect opportunity.
The ranks of the bird nerds can always use a few more devotees and, thankfully, you don’t have to be a bird expert to participate.
Back when my oldest daughter was 3 (she’s now 13), we joined the Great Backyard Bird Count for the first time at my father’s suggestion. I had never heard of the GBBC, and back then we didn’t know a tufted titmouse from a nuthatch. However, our lack of bird identification skills didn’t stop us from participating in the count — and having a lot of fun together — which laid the groundwork for a lifelong fascination with the winged creatures that share our world.
Participating was easy. I printed off a chart with pictures of common birds that my daughter could recognize like the black-capped chickadee, cardinal and blue jay. Each time she saw a bird during the 15-minute time span she drew a hash mark next to the picture. When time was up, she counted her marks and I entered the information into an online form and submitted it. She thought it was great fun to count the birds.
The next thing you know, we both had journals for keeping track of the birds we’d seen. We learned the names of all the birds that frequented our backyard birdfeeder and poured over the pages of bird guides to learn the field marks of the less common birds we might see. And now, the student has become the master — she can identify birds better than me.
The next GBBC will take place Feb. 15 to 18. It doesn’t take anything special to participate, and best of all, it’s completely free. All you need is a GBBC account (birdcount.org), a pen and paper and a curious mind. Count birds anywhere, anytime for 15 minutes or longer, then submit an online checklist of what species you saw and how many.
If you’ve got a mobile device, I highly recommend downloading the free eBird Mobile app to enter data on the go. Once you’ve got the GBBC under your belt, you can use the app to report birds you see anywhere at any time of the year.
It’s always a thrill to see a bald eagle soaring overhead or a red-tailed hawk perched on a powerline. If you report those sightings through eBird, scientists can use the data to get the big picture of how birds are faring, where they are living and estimate their populations.
Last year almost 200,000 people from more than 100 countries around the globe submitted checklists during the GBBC. They reported an astounding 6,456 species of birds, which is more than half the known bird species in the entire world.
The most frequently reported bird was the northern cardinal. The top 10 list also included the American crow, blue jay and downy woodpecker.
Any place with water is always a good place to look for birds, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that the snow goose, Canada goose, mallard and herring gull made the top 10 list of most numerous birds.
One highlight from last year’s count was the number of snowy owls that moved south into the eastern United States. Among the most southernmost owls reported was one nearby in Washington, D.C.
I challenge you to spend some time looking for birds over this long weekend. If the weather is nice, go outside to a park. If it’s too cold for your comfort, counting birds from the warmth of your living room is just as fine. It doesn’t matter where you do it, but spending just 15 minutes counting birds might be your start for a life-long love of birding.
Release your inner bird nerd and take the opportunity to notice and appreciate, and if you can, share with a child, the nature that is all around us.
Local GBBC events offered
If you don’t want to go it alone, want to get out of the house and enjoy one of Southern Maryland’s many parks or are looking to sharpen your bird identification skills, the Southern Maryland Audubon Society has got your covered. Events across all three counties are open to the public and free for all.
In Calvert County from 8 to 10 a.m. on Feb. 15 at Flag Ponds Nature Park in Lusby, the Calvert Nature Society invites birders of all ages to help identify and count birds with the naturalist in charge, Shannon Steele.
Reservations are required by today, Feb. 13. To register or for more information, go to www.calvertparks.org.
In St. Mary’s County from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Elms Environmental Center (49300 St. James Road, Dameron), the Elms and Southern Maryland Sierra Club are teaming up to host birders of all ages, including beginner birders, to count birds for the GBBC. Bring your own binoculars or borrow theirs.
Drop by and count birds any time that works for you. No RSVP required. For more information, email Alicia Lindbom at email@example.com. Rain date will be Feb. 17.
In Charles County from 10 a.m. to noon Feb. 17 at Port Tobacco River Park, join trip leader Lynne Wheeler at the new Charles County park for a guided bird count.
The group will count all birds seen and heard on the Eagle and Wetland Trail. Dress appropriately and bring your binoculars. There will also be some provided if you don’t have a pair.
This is a great beginner bird activity. Participants will also be checking on the eagle nest and Wheeler will discuss the eagle monitoring initiative occurring throughout the state.
No RSVP required. For more information, email Wheeler at firstname.lastname@example.org or text 301-751-8097.