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Bird counters unite online

Sun., Feb. 8, 2009

Your home’s picture window is a front-row seat for The Great Backyard Bird Count, which starts Friday and runs through Monday.

The 12th annual event, organized by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, combines the basics of simple birdwatching with the technological advances of online data processing.

Wildlife watchers pool their data and see what’s going on with wintering bird populations across North America.

Some people merely tally the species and numbers of birds that visit their yard feeders during a specific period each day. Others plan neighborhood surveys.

The event’s Web site offers activities for kids and classrooms.

Last year participants submitted 84,784 checklists that counted 9.8 million birds and 634 species. As individuals enter their results online, the database continually updates on maps and charts. The information can be filtered locally, regionally and continent- wide as well as being compared with previous years.

The Web site features high-quality photos from participants scattered across thousands of miles.

The event essentially recruits an army of volunteer “citizen scientists” to help researchers understand bird population and distribution trends.

The basic tools are binoculars, a field guide to the region’s birds and a computer to deliver the results through the Internet.

Incidentally, if you haven’t studied birds through binoculars you’re missing a colorful treat in artistic detail. Cedar waxwings and other birds that may look drab reveal stunning and colorful detail when their plumage is studied through eight-power lenses.

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