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Volunteers tally birds in backyards

Volunteers tally birds in backyards

Bird watchers across the Capital Region got out their pencils and binoculars and filled up their

Bird watchers across the Capital Region got out their pencils and binoculars and filled up their bird feeders this weekend for the Great Backyard Bird Count.

The weekend event, sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, concludes today.

Thousands of people across the country and Canada participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count, which encourages people to watch the birds in their backyards for at least 15 minutes and record the highest number of each species they see.

The data is submitted online and gives scientists a snapshot of where birds are and how many there are in a weekend.

Peg Cutler, of Moreau, a staff member at Wild Birds Unlimited in Wilton, a national chain of stores that sells birdseed and other bird feeding equipment for the backyard, said she spent the day Saturday watching birds and recording her findings off and on.

“Yesterday I had the day off,” she said Sunday, “so I watched in 15-minute intervals and counted what species I saw. Then I'd periodically check back."

Cutler has a number of different feeders set up in her backyard. Her checklist includes Carolina wrens, chickadees, dark-eyed juncos and three different types of woodpeckers. She also is counting a flock of more than 200 crows that she saw go over her head Sunday afternoon.

Cutler said she is able to tell the difference in the species from years of practice. She recommended that inexperienced bird watchers participate in the Great Backyard Bird Watch with experienced friends or a good guidebook.

Cutler said the area's bird population is stable at this time of year, so it is a good time to get a snapshot of where the birds are.

“You don't have migrants coming in or leaving. The birds that are here all winter are most likely to show up,” she said. “You can see the stability of the year-round population. If you see a bird that is not supposed to be here at this time you want to figure out why.”

Wendy Wagner of Clifton Park has been watching birds her entire life. She has lived at her house on Waite Road for more than 20 years and has been participating in Cornell's Project FeederWatch since then. Every Saturday and Sunday she counts the birds in her backyard and sends the information to Cornell. She does this for about 21 weeks from November to April. She will also send this weekend's data to the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Wagner said she thinks the Great Backyard Bird Count is a way to heighten people's interest in birds.

About 1,550 checklists were submitted by Sunday afternoon from New Yorkers across the state, according to information on the event's Web site. Bird watchers have until March 1 to submit their checklists.

Saratoga Springs ranked fourth among other New York locations for submitting checklists with 25 submissions. Ithaca, where Cornell is located, ranked first with 39 submissions.

The black-capped chickadee was counted on the most checklists of those submitted from Saratoga Springs and the American robin was found to be in the most abundance. In Albany the black-capped chickadee was found on seven of the eight checklists submitted, and the American crow was seen in the most abundance.

The white-brested nuthatch was found on the most checklists submitted from Schenectady, but the black-capped chickadee and dark-eyed junco were found to be most abundant.

Wagner said it is interesting to go online and see what birds people are counting around the country.

“I've noticed that there is a high number of goldfinches, which is the same thing at my feeder, which is kind of cool,” she said.

Wagner spent Sunday afternoon making Valentine's Day cookies and watching the 80 or so birds that frequent her backyard.

Wagner said bird watching is her way of keeping track of nature. She has more than 20 years of data and said it's comforting to know that nothing has really changed with the bird populations at her house despite environmental changes.

“It's like a ministudy that I have in my own patch of environment,” she said.

Wagner sees roughly the same eight blue jays every day. She calls them “the boys.”

Nancy Castillo of Saratoga has been a casual observer of birds for a long time, she said. “So many of us love the idea of being able to look out the window and see a bird at the feeder, to see nature in your yard,” Castillo said. “We need to make sure the birds are doing fine and those populations are doing fine.”

She said bird watching is also multi-generational and can be a way to bridge the generation gap.

“A grandparent and grandchild are both enamored by a blue jay or cardinal out there,” Castillo said. “It's an amazing hobby.”

Castillo and Lois Geshiwlm , who own the Wild Birds Unlimited Nature Shop in Wilton, have been promoting the Great Backyard Bird Count in their store.

Anyone who comes in with their checklist will receive a free two-pound bag of birdseed and a New York state bird checklist for next year.

For more information and to see the results of the Great Backyard Bird Count visit the Web site at www.birdsource.org/gbbc/.

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