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Bird count volunteers sought nationwide

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Bird watchers coast to coast are invited to take part in the 13th annual Great Backyard Bird Count, Friday, Feb. 12, through Monday, Feb. 15.

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Participants in the free event will join tens of thousands of volunteers counting birds in their own backyards, local parks or wildlife refuges.

Each checklist submitted by these "citizen scientists" helps researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the National Audubon Society and Bird Studies Canada learn more about how the birds are doing - and how to protect them. Last year, participants turned in more than 93,600 checklists online, creating the continent's largest instantaneous snapshot of bird populations ever recorded.

In New Richmond, eight participants filed reports in 2009. In Somerset, four people participated.

"Taking part in the Great Backyard Bird Count is a great way to get outside with family and friends, have fun and help birds - all at the same time," said Audubon Education Vice President Judy Braus. "Even if you can identify a few species you can provide important information that enables scientists to learn more about how the environment is changing and how that affects our conservation priorities."

Anyone can take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, from novice bird watchers to experts. Participants count birds for as little as 15 minutes (or as long as they wish) on one or more days of the event and report their sightings online at www.birdcount.org.

"The GBBC is a perfect first step toward the sort of intensive monitoring needed to discover how birds are responding to environmental change," said Janis Dickinson, director of Citizen Science at the Cornell Lab. "Winter is such a vulnerable period for birds, so winter bird distributions are likely to be very sensitive to change. There is only one way - citizen science - to gather data on private lands where people live and the GBBC has been doing this across the continent for many years. GBBC has enormous potential both as an early warning system and in capturing and engaging people in more intensive sampling of birds across the landscape."

Bird populations are always shifting and changing.

For example, 2009 GBBC data highlighted a huge southern invasion of Pine Siskins across much of the eastern United States. Participants counted 279,469 Pine Siskins on 18,528 checklists, as compared to the previous high of 38,977 birds on 4,069 checklists in 2005. Failure of seed crops farther north caused the siskins to move south to find their favorite food.

On www.birdcount.org, participants can explore real-time maps and charts that show what others are reporting during the count. The site has tips to help identify birds and special materials for educators. Participants may also enter the GBBC photo contest by uploading images taken during the count. Many images will be featured in the GBBC Web site's photo gallery. All participants are entered in a drawing for prizes that include bird feeders, binoculars, books, CDs and many other great birding products.

For more information about the GBBC, visit the Web site at www.birdcount.org. Or contact the Cornell Lab of Ornithology at 800-843-2473, gbbc@cornell.edu, or Audubon at 202-861-2242, ext. 3050, citizenscience@audubon.org.

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