Birders Set New Records in Great Backyard Bird Count
NEW YORK, New York, March 24, 2008 (ENS) Bird watchers broke reporting records during the 2008 Great Backyard Bird Count sponsored annually by the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York.

Participants submitted more than 85,700 checklists during the four-day event, February 15 to 8, surpassing last year's record by several thousand.

Participants identified a record 635 species and sent in thousands of bird images from around the continent.

Birders who had heard about the massive seed production failure in trees across northern Canada were expecting a huge influx of northern finches coming south to look for food.

"As predicted, there were record numbers of Great Backyard Bird Count reports for pine grosbeak," says Rob Fergus, senior scientist with the National Audubon Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting birds and other wildlife and the habitat that supports them.

Fergus says it was also a "banner year" for common redpolls and evening grosbeaks, reported in their highest numbers in several years.

But not all species were seen in record numbers. In this year's count, numbers of yellow-billed magpies hit a new low. Magpies, crows, and jays are especially susceptible to the West Nile virus. For the past few years the population of yellow-billed magpies has declined following the spread of the virus to California.

Nationwide, American crow and blue jay numbers appear to have stabilized somewhat, but bear continued monitoring as the populations of these birds continue to adapt to the presence of this new disease.

According to the report, Northern bobwhite have declined by 82 percent over the past 40 years. Northern Pintail are down 77 percent, greater scaup are down 75 percent, and Eastern meadowlarks are down 72 percent over the same time frame.

The Great Backyard Bird Count charts the explosive geographic expansion of Eurasian collared doves. The species has spread quickly since it was introduced in Florida in 1980 and it made new inroads this year. For the first time, Great Backyard Bird Count records of this bird came from British Columbia, Manitoba, and Oregon.

Some species showed up in Great Backyard Bird Count reports for the first time, including a masked duck in Texas - a bird that is usually found in the tropics.

An Arctic loon, seldom seen outside Alaska, was spotted in California. An ivory gull wandered down from the high Arctic to show up on a checklist in South Dakota, and a scarlet ibis was seen in Florida.

The bird seen most often was the Northern cardinal. (Photo by Jerry Acton, New York courtesy GBBC)

"Each year, awareness of the Great Backyard Bird Count seems to spread," says Janis Dickinson, science director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a nonprofit membership institution interpreting and conserving the Earth's biological diversity through research, education, and citizen science focused on birds.

"Committed individuals, nature centers, parks, and schools adopted the GBBC as their own in an unprecedented way this year," Dickinson said. "They held bird walks, ID workshops, and many other events tied to the count."

Preschoolers built feeders out of milk jugs. An artist painted a mural of urban birds in Hollywood.

One participant commented, "Participating in the bird count has given my children a little taste of what it is like to be a scientist."

The top 10 most-reported birds in the 2008 Great Backyard Bird Count are:

  1. Northern cardinal
  2. Mourning dove
  3. Dark-eyed junco
  4. Downy woodpecker
  5. American goldfinch
  6. Blue jay
  7. House finch
  8. Tufted titmouse
  9. Black-capped chickadee
  10. American crow
For a more detailed summary of this year's results, visit the Great Backyard Bird Count website at Explore maps, see photos, prize-drawing winners, and the list of cities and towns that topped their state or province for the number of checklists submitted.

The Great Backyard Bird Count returns February 13-16, 2009.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.