Prepping for the Great Backyard Bird Count

Birders of all ages from many corners of the world will participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count from February 13 through February 16, 2015.
Prepping for the Great Backyard Bird Count

STEMists can capture the exhilaration of discovery while bird watching this winter in preparation for the 18th annual Great Backyard Bird Count. Bird counters spend at least 15 minutes on one or more of the GBBC days counting birds.  Each day a completed checklist is electronically submitted through the GBBC web site. STEMists with photography skills should also check out the annual GBBC photo contest.

Below are tips for STEMists and other backyard birders to prepare for this year’s event.

Bird Identification

Winter is a good time to bird watch and become familiar with a variety of birds in your region.  STEMists and their families can plan a bird watching adventure at a local nature trail where there are feeding stations. It’s a good idea to visit your local library or purchase a bird guide book, such as “The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America,” for your STEMists to familiarize themselves with the types of birds they may see out on the trail. This may make field identification easier.

The optimal time to watch birds is when they are active and hungry, which is early in the morning or late in the afternoon.  A nearby pond or lake is ideal for water bird sightings, such as ducks, geese, egrets or herons, depending on where you live in the world. And, if an outing isn’t possible, then STEMists can attract birds to their own backyard by setting out bird feeders.

Be sure to check out the National Geographic’s “What’s That Bird?”interactive bird identification search.  The site will ask your STEMists to answer four simple questions:

  1. Where did you see the bird?
  2. In what month did you see the bird?
  3. What color(s) was the bird? (11 options to choose from)
  4. What size was the bird? (5 options to choose from)

National Geographic What's That Bird

Through a comprehensive database, a pictorial listing of possibilities is displayed based on the selections made in the questions.  The results help the STEMists clearly match their backyard bird to one of the birds in the pictured results.

Bird Logging

STEMists and birders can make their own bird journal to keep notes and details of their bird sightings.  For younger STEMists, created a simple journal template  ready to print.  Many birders draw their birds in a sketch book and then write a short description of the bird. Others take photos and store them in their journals or a photo album, along with the detailed description, including the date, time and location of the sighting.  Also, STEMists can buy a Bird Log book that includes bird facts, games, projects and ways to help our feathered friends.

Bird Apps

National Geographic Bird LITE

If your STEMists own a smartphone, bird apps can be ideal in the field—whether they’re trying to identify a bluebird in their yard, an owl on a barn’s roof, or the sound of a gull on the Atlantic shore.  National Geographic’s Bird LITE offers a free guide to over 70 bird species with optional upgrades. The sound resources available on the upgrade feature songs, chip notes and geographical variation. Text describing similar-sounding species—with the similar species playable from the same screen—helps you explore possibilities when trying to ID a sound.

For fun, test your bird wisdom with Allo! Guess the Bird Type Trivia, an app that claims to be quite challenging for bird fanatics!

Bird Cam

Be prepared for unsuccessful bird watching adventures—where you see very little activity. If your STEMists are disappointed with the sightings of the day, a visit to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s feeder cams web site can be a groovy way to cheer them up.  Your STEMists can observe, up close, red-tailed hawks, great blue herons, barn owls and more at their feeder stations! Feeder cams can be a fantastic educational experience for your STEMists as well as hours of entertainment.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology's feeder cams

For more birding activity and educational fun, check out “For the Birds” Groovy Lab in a Box! Your STEMists will continue to explore the wonders of birds through investigations and the Engineering Design Challenge: Can you design and build a bird feeder that meets the survival needs of local birds using upcycled materials?  Investigate types of birds in your local area, their drinking and feeding habits, and what types of bird feeder structures best suit them – all while recording results in their very own 20+ page custom Groovy Lab in a Box Lab Notebook.

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