For the birds: The 14th annual Great Backyard Bird Count begins today – and you can participate

By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal

Kristin Lamberson often spends time in a chair in front of a big picture window watching birds. It’s part of her job.
Lamberson is the interpretive gardens specialist for Strawberry Plains Audubon Center in Holly Springs.
Every morning, Lamberson fills dozens of bird feeders situated around a small part of the 2,600-acre campus. A tube feeder gets a quart of sunflower hearts. A wooden box feeder is sprinkled with black-oil sunflower seeds. Thistle goes into a mesh bag. Millet is scattered on the ground. Suet is smeared on a tree.
“Beaks kind of tell you what a bird might eat,” Lamberson said. “A cardinal has a big beak so he can crunch sunflower seeds. A delicate beak, like that of a finch, is scissorlike. They don’t have the strength. They’ll want the hearts of sunflower seeds, the kernels.”
Lamberson is gearing up for the 14th annual Great Backyard Bird Count, which begins today and runs through Monday.
Coordinated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Audubon, and Bird Studies Canada, the four-day count typically records more than 10 million observations. Last year, 97,331 checklists were submitted, 603 species observed, and 11,233,609 individual birds counted. Participants reported more than 1.8 million American Robins, as well as rarities such as the first Red-billed Tropicbird in the count’s 13-year history.

Instructions
Anyone can participate in the bird count. If you’d like to give it a try, here’s what you’ll need to do.
n Count birds at any location for at least 15 minutes – or more if you wish. Later you’ll be asked to record the amount of time you spent watching.
n Write down only the highest number of each species you see together at any one time to avoid counting the same birds more than once. For example, if you see eight cardinals as you start your count period, then later you see 12, and later still you see three, you’ll report only 12 – the highest number you saw together at once. Do not add the numbers together.
n You’ll submit your data on a new checklist for each day you participate in the count. It’s OK if you count at the same location each day – submit a new list for each day.
n You’ll submit a new checklist for each new location. You can submit more than one checklist on a given day if you count at more than one site.
n When you’re ready to enter your checklist, go to the GBBC website at www.birdcount.org and click on the “submit your checklists” button at the top.
Lamberson said birds that are common in Northeast Mississippi include cardinals, chickadees, titmice, bluejays, wrens, finches, woodpeckers, thrashers, flickers, sparrows, robins, juncos, doves and bluebirds.
“You might want to go to a website or find a book – just find a way to be familiar with the different birds before you try to count them,” she said.

Tips for success
Food, water and shelter will attract birds to your backyard.
“You kind of have to look from their perspective,” Lamberson said. “If you had wings and were looking down, what would you want? Where would you go? Some places don’t look very hospitable.”
Feeders should be filled regularly and checked to make sure seed hasn’t turned rancid.
Water is a must. In the winter, Lamberson keeps the birdbaths at Strawberry Plains heated so the water in them doesn’t freeze.
And trees, bushes and shrubbery provide protection. Or you can build your own.
In late December, Lamberson put an old Christmas tree near some bird feeders and covered it with pine boughs. Not only did this provide shelter from recent snows, but it also provided protection from predators, such as hawks.
“Sharp-shinned Hawks and Cooper’s Hawks – they’re looking for food, too,” Lamberson said. “They know birds will feed here so they’ll sit and watch and wait.”
Nesting boxes, or birdhouses, will also attract some birds to your backyard, but not all birds build their homes in birdhouses.
“Some use shrubbery, while others use the high canopy of trees,” she said. “Birds that use nesting boxes are what we call cavity dwellers, like titmice and chickadees.”

Lee County counters
Mary Nell Gardner, who lives in Lee County, has participated in the bird count three times. She plans to spend two days counting the winged creatures this year.
“I probably have more flickers, downys, chickadees, cardinals and titmice,” she said. “I have had a couple of red-headed woodpeckers. Out on our pond, of course, there are the blue herons. We have nuthatches, too, and bluebirds and bluejays. Once in a while, we’ll have the Belted Kingfisher.”
Susan McGukin, program associate for volunteer management at the Lee County Extension Service, is participating for the first time this year.
“To attract birds, we’ve added shrubs with berries, birdbaths and feeders to our backyard in downtown Tupelo,” she said. “We have many varieties of birds visit our yard, so it’ll be interesting to actually participate in the count this weekend.”

Try it
– What: 14th annual Great Backyard Bird Count

– When: Today through Monday.

– Why: To create an instantaneous snapshot of birdlife across the U.S. and Canada

– Info: Go to www.birdcount.org for instructions and tally sheets.