For the Birds

Today, we are taking 15 minutes to count birds in our backyard. We are joining thousands of amateur birders in the Great Backyard Bird Count. It is held annually in February as a grand citizen science project.

Here are some of the questions that participation in the bird count by folks around the world can help solve:

  1. “How will the weather and climate change influence bird populations?”
  2. “Some birds, such as winter finches, appear in large numbers during some years but not others. Where are these species from year to year, and what can we learn from these patterns?”
  3. “How will the timing of birds’ migrations compare with past years?”
  4. “How are bird diseases, such as West Nile virus, affecting birds in different regions?”
  5. “What kinds of differences in bird diversity are apparent in cities versus suburban, rural, and natural areas?”

This is a “flocking the system” style of citizen science. Folks around the planet gather data over space and time. The flock provides observations that can help answer big questions. It’s the kind of science that needs human eyes on the streets and fields and rivers and forests to see, to tally, and to share. We’ll do our part to be one part of this something bigger.

GBBC_Social-Media_final1-300x300I expect we’ll see a mix of pigeons and sparrows, maybe a mourning dove or cardinal. But, even without including the possible rare species sightings, the bird list for Chicago, Illinois is longer and more diverse than I could have imagined.

It’s not that I haven’t seen many of these birds, but somehow it wasn’t until they were gathered in a list (like this) that the diversity of birds in my city could roost in my imagination. This is the other reason why our household is counting backyard birds in the season of Lent. These birds are our neighbors, and I don’t know their names – and my kiddos don’t yet know their names. Yet.

The header image on this post is the gorgeous poster of North American birds that hangs in my office. Unfortunately, we haven’t yet connected these pictures to the creatures flying outside our windows. Joining the Great Backyard Bird Count is chance to get to know the names of some of our neighbors.

Dr. David Rhoads, Director of Lutherans Restoring Creation, helped me see this practice in a new light. “Linneaus for Lent” is a census project. It’s a survey of our local, beloved Earth-community. Being able to call our backyard birds by name is a first step in holding them as beloved and making them part of our local Earth-community.

It’s not too late to join the count. Sign up here. How many neighbor-birds will you find?


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