Nature lovers around the world are marking 2018 as the Year of the Bird. Each of us can join the National Audubon Society, National Geographic, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and Bird Life International in a year-long celebration focused on helping birds and conserving the places they need.

To make a commitment to birds, sign up online at the National Audubon Society’s website (http://www.audubon.org/) or the National Geographic Society’s website (https://www.nationalgeographic.org/projects/year-of-the-bird/) – it is free and it takes just a couple minutes.

Once you are signed up, the partner organizations will ask people to take simple actions that will help birds each month. February’s featured action is to take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, which is planned for February 16-19 (President’s Day weekend).

The Great Backyard Bird Count started in 1998 and was the first online citizen-science project to collect data about wild birds. The count is done in February each year to give a snapshot of bird distributions before spring migration. By participating in the bird count, citizen scientists help researchers better understand patterns of bird diversity and abundance, as well as issues such how weather or climate change influences bird populations, how migrations compare to those of the past, and how diseases affect birds in various parts of the country.

A query of Great Backyard Bird Count data showed that 669 species of birds were observed in the United States in 2017. Missouri’s total was 142 species. Thirteen people participated in the 2017 count in the five counties around Mark Twain National Forest’s Potosi-Fredericktown Ranger District, and their bird count numbers were as follows: Crawford, 44 species; Iron, 21 species; Madison, 6 species; St. Francois, 32 species; and Washington, 19 species.

If you have 15 minutes to spare during the Great Backyard Bird Count, you can make a difference and help birds. You do not have to be an expert bird watcher. Beginning observers and families with children can count birds around the house or neighborhood, or even better – count birds at a Mark Twain National Forest site. Teachers and students can count birds from the classroom window or around the schoolyard.

Tally the numbers and kinds of birds you see during the 15 minutes. Then, enter your bird count tally into the eBird smartphone app, or on the bird count website (https://gbbc.birdcount.org). The eBird App and bird count website have many helpful educational materials to help with bird identification and data entry. The free Audubon Birds App and Merlin Bird ID App make bird identification easy.

Make the Great Backyard Bird Count a fun February event and remember to celebrate the Year of the Bird by learning about birds and their habitat needs.

Roger Tory Peterson, the legendary birder and naturalist said it best, “Birds are indicators of the environment. If they are in trouble, we know we'll soon be in trouble.”

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