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Diggin' In: Join the Great Backyard Bird Count

February 16, 2015

Plump, ripe berries are a birdís best buffet when Old Man Winter makes nutritious insects a hard meal to find.

Faithfully-filled feeders are fantastic, too, because birds need the oil and fat from seeds and suet to help keep them warm.

Hopefully you have both in your yard, and hopefully you use those attractants to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count Feb. 13-16, scheduled for Valentine Day weekend, a time to show your love for your feathered friends. Last year bird watchers from 135 countries participated, documenting nearly 4,300 species on more than 144,000 bird checklists, according to a press release from the National Audubon Society, one of the eventís sponsors.

"One of the most important aspects of the GBBC is its scale ó it is now a global count," says Pat Leonard, coordinator for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, also a sponsor.

"By stepping back and taking the broadest view of where birds are found and in what numbers, scientists get a much clearer picture of how bird populations are changing over time. Thereís simply no other way to do that than by harnessing the power of bird watchers everywhere! We learn which species may be increasing or declining from year to year, how a speciesí range may be changing, and so on."

"We like to think of the GBBC as a gateway to citizen science and a great way to learn about birds. When you learn about something you care about it, and when you care about something you want to preserve and protect it. Birds certainly need protecting in light of all the threats they face today."

Birding 101

If you doubt your ability to recognize birds beyond a red cardinal and a blue jay, Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society offer useful online resources ó http://gbbc.birdcount.org/learn_about_birds/ ó to help anyone identify birds in their backyard and help distinguish between birds that look a lot alike, according to Shirley Devan of Williamsburg, Va., past president of the Williamsburg (Va.), Bird Club, www.williamsburgbirdclub.org . Devanís bird-identifying trips with photos are regular features on her Facebook feeds, joining the likes of other social media groups, including Birds of the Eastern United States. ó to help anyone identify birds in their backyard and help distinguish between birds that look a lot alike, according to Shirley Devan of Williamsburg, Va., past president of the Williamsburg (Va.), Bird Club, www.williamsburgbirdclub.org . Devanís bird-identifying trips with photos are regular features on her Facebook feeds, joining the likes of other social media groups, including Birds of the Eastern United States.

"Carolina chickadees and black-capped chickadees are difficult to identify," she says.

"For those of us in Tidewater Virginia and on the Peninsula, itís easy ó we have only Carolina chickadees."

Winter is the perfect opportunity to learn about the different birds in your neighborhood because leafless trees and shrubs make them easy to spot, according to Jane Frigo, a southeastern Virginia birder and member of the Hampton Roads Bird Club, www.hamptonroadsbirdclub.org . Also, bird watching is an enjoyable, affordable, anytime-anywhere activity that young and old can do separately or together.

"All that is required is opening eyes and ears to the outdoors and maybe a friend or a field guide to identify what you see and hear for the first time," she says.

"A great place to begin is in your own backyard. You may be pleasantly surprised at the diversity you may find there ó 15 to 20 different species is not unusual."

Here are some native bird-friendly plants that the Virginia Living Museum in Newport News, Va., suggests for your yard.

"It is important to provide food, cover, and nesting sites for birds within our home landscapes because natural spaces where these usually occur are shrinking," says Bruce Peachee, horticulture curator at the museum.

Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis). Petite white flowers that resemble cherry blossoms appear April-May. The plant grows 25 feet tall, likes part-shade to shade and average to poor, wet-medium soil. Edible red-purple fruits ripen in summer, and foliage turns red to orange in fall. Cold hardy zones 4-9.

Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana). Grey-blue, berry-like fruits appear in fall, usually October on this native evergreen that grows 10-20 feet wide and 20-40 feet tall. In addition to providing berries as food, the large shrub/small tree offers shelter and nesting sites for songbirds. Cold hardy zones 3-9.

Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana). Pale lavender flowers appear June-July, followed by raspberry-pink fruit clusters August-October. Mockingbirds and catbirds favor the fruit. Cold hardy zones 5-8.

Winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata). Tiny white flowers cover the plant September-January, and showy red fruit embellishes female plants fall and winter. Robins and waxwings particularly like the plant. Cold hardy zones 4-8.

Wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana). White-petaled blooms, followed by wild strawberries, cover the plant April-June. The six-inch-tall plant likes sun to part shade and dry soil; use it as a perennial groundcover. Cold hardy zones 3-8.

 

 


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