Birding in Winter Offers Great Reward
Becoming a Citizen Scientist Opens Your Awareness to Birdlife In Your Backyard
During the chilly months of winter, many of the creatures we’re used to seeing around us make themselves scarce. Small mammals hunker down in nests and burrows, and insects, amphibians, and aquatic life hide out in different ways, patiently waiting for the climate to warm up. In a seemingly barren landscape, some of the best winter wildlife watching opportunities can happen right in your own backyard! Feathered friends of all shapes and sizes flock to feeders during the winter months more than ever, and they’re easier to spot this time of year thanks to trees’ leaf-less limbs.
In addition to allowing families to learn about the connections that local species have to the wintry landscape, winter birdwatching provides a way to partake in important citizen science projects! Through Mass Audubon, families can learn about and report data on numerous bird species found in New England. While some of the species included in Mass Audubon’s resources for reporting bird sightings focus on summertime species, there are a great many birds found in wintertime who can be included as well – meaning that families have access to lots of wildlife-related citizen science opportunities during the coming months!
Of particular interest to families during the winter are the many owl species that can be spotted locally. Sightings of barred, screech, great horned, barn, or other owls can all be reported to Mass Audubon, allowing the organization to keep tabs on the population and habitat range of each species. Long-eared owls, for example, have rarely been sighted in Massachusetts during the past few decades, and citizen scientist spottings are important to report! Additionally, families should keep an eye out for snowy owls, a species that breeds in the Arctic but can be spotted in Massachusetts during its migratory periods – this year, a larger-than-normal number of snowy owls are expected to be visiting us, so be sure to report any sightings!
Sightings of other birds – either at home feeders or on outdoor adventures – can be reported to Mass Audubon, too, through a program called eBird. Created in collaboration with Cornell University’s ornithology lab, eBird includes checklists of commonly seen birds, information on species identification, and maps of sightings both locally and across the country. In addition to using the platform as a way to share citizen scientist data, families can explore the online resources that eBird offers in order to learn more about the species that they share their environment with. A look at a map of local sightings can help families learn what species they’re most likely to spot, while reading about the many species who might be seen can help families to learn about diversity amongst bird species.
Great Backyard Bird Count
“Launched in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, the Great Backyard Bird Count was the first online citizen-science project to collect data on wild birds and to display results in near real-time.
“Now, more than 160,000 people of all ages and walks of life worldwide join the four-day count each February to create an annual snapshot of the distribution and abundance of birds.”
Find out more here: http://gbbc.birdcount.org
[Photo credit: (cc) Keith Carver]