Count birds for at least 15 minutes in your locality and record your observations online — the Great Backyard Bird Count is here!

As you read this, birders across the world are getting ready to participate in The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) 2014. They will count birds in their locality from February 14 to 17 and record the numbers online, contributing to one of the biggest citizen’s science projects ever. The event gives the common man a chance to lend scientists a hand at studying birds.

According to gbbc.birdcount.org, the project was started in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a unit of Cornell University, New York, and National Audubon Society, an American environmental organisation.

To participate, you don’t need a fancy spotting scope, years of experience in birding, or in-depth knowledge of birds and their behaviour; all you need is interest. Count birds in your preferred location for at least 15 minutes, record the species and the number, and enter the list on www.BirdCount.org. You can select your location from a map and proceed to record your observations with the date, type (travelling, stationary, or incidental), time, duration, and party size.

The list of instructions by the organisers says that you can enter checklists for each of the four days, and for every different location. You can also enter lists of birds counted at different parts of a day at the same location.

In 2013, birders from 111 countries participated in the GBBC; 202 participants from India sent in checklists. With 89, Tamil Nadu submitted the second largest number.

But what’s the point of this massive exercise? There’s so much scientists can do with data of such a large scale. For one, it will help them find out how climate changes affect bird populations and how certain diseases affect birds in various parts of the world.

Imagine, a birder might be looking out his / her balcony, scouring the tree cover of a local park, or eyeing a wetland nearby for a sign of birds as you do so, thousands of kilometres away!

Reason To Be Proud

Last year, India submitted 467 checklists, making us the third highest contributor after the U.S. (1,20,919) and Canada (12,599). We also came third in the list of number of species spotted — 544. Mexico recorded the maximum number of species with 645, while the U.S. recorded 638.

The Chennai connect

Birding groups are expected to organise events in their localities as part of the GBBC. In the city, student-members of The Nature Trust are set to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count India, 2014. They will be given an orientation on the proceedings at the Pallikaranai marsh on February 9 by P. Jeganathan, a scientist with the Nature Conservation Foundation. Jeganathan figured in the list of top contributors for the GBBC 2013.

The Karadi Malai Camp, run by herpetologist Romulus Whitaker and writer Janaki Lenin, also hosts three bird counts on each day of the GBBC. To be held in the wetlands and forest areas in and around the camp, the event is priced from Rs. 500 to Rs. 2,250 a person, depending on the sessions. For details, call 73734-18669.

For details of GBBC India, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/449287601838394/ or https://groups.google.com/forum/#%21forum/birdcountindia

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