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National event lands in your backyard
Great Backyard Bird Count can involve all family members
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Calling all "citizen scientists"!

The 12th annual Great Backyard Bird Count is Friday through Monday, giving ordinary folks a chance to contribute to a national database on bird populations.

The project, co-sponsored by the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, is open to people of any age or skill level. Even young children can participate, because you only have to count the birds you know you can identify.
"It’s a great activity for families," said Todd Schneider, a wildlife biologist for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. "And people who have mobility limitations, such as the elderly, can be involved."

That’s because the birding can be done anywhere. You can visit a park, take a stroll around your neighborhood or just sit by the window and look at your bird feeders.

The rules are simple: Watch birds for intervals of at least 15 minutes. Count how many you see of each species. Then go to the Web site, www.birdcount.org, to submit your checklist.

Your results will be posted immediately, and you can compare your hometown’s data to any location in North America. Last year, Georgians sent in 3,135 checklists, including 73 from Gainesville residents.

The Web site also offers tips for identifying species, and there’s lots of online activities for kids, including quizzes and games that help them learn more about birds. Older kids can also submit photographs for the chance to win prizes.

Peter Gordon, education director at Elachee Nature Science Center in Gainesville, is planning to lead a bird hike at Chicopee Lake starting at 8 a.m. Saturday.

He said once people try the Bird Count, they seem eager to do it again. "It’s generating intense interest among people who weren’t really interested in birding before," he said. "And I think some important stuff is being generated by this data."

Schneider said the information collected over the past 12 years has been genuinely useful to scientists.

"We are getting a sense of where species are distributed in Georgia during the winter," he said.

With many families having to cut back on entertainment because of economic hardship, the Bird Count is an ideal project for the long Presidents’ Day weekend. It’s free, and you don’t even have to spend money on gas if you don’t want to.

"The best time to see birds is now (in winter)," Gordon said. "They’re so hungry, they’re going to come to your feeder regardless of whether there are kids with binoculars standing there watching."

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