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Help Count Birds in Honor of National Bird Feeding Month

By Petco_Charlene on Feb. 17, 2017

February is National Bird Feeding Month in the U.S., and it’s also the time of year when I like to refresh my backyard bird feeder assortment and stock up on a variety of bird seed. Since I’ve been feeding birds for a few years now, I wanted to step it up and do something different. So in the name of science, I’m going to participate in the 20th Annual Great Backyard Bird Count this weekend, and if you have backyard birds, I encourage you to participate as well. I particpated last year, and counted and tracked dozens of birds. It was fun and easy!

Winter can be a difficult time for wild birds—especially in areas with harsh weather. The rain, snow, high winds and bitter colder temperatures make it challenging for them to forage for food and even water. I live in San Diego, where we have mild weather year-round, but it can get cold and rainy in the winter, and there are plenty of hungry birds to feed. So I try to help by providing a variety of bird food and feeders, and this year, I’m also going to count the birds in my backyard.

The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is an annual four-day global event that anyone can participate in as a volunteer. Last year was "epic" according to the GBBC. An estimated 163,763 bird watchers from more than 130 countries submitted 162,052 bird checklists reporting 5,689 species—more than half the known bird species in the world and 599 more species than 2015!

These annual bird counts help researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society track the health of bird populations, and the data gathered over time helps scientists investigate bird topics such as migration, disease, weather and more.

If you’d like to participate in this year’s count, follow these steps:
1. Create an account at birdcount.org
2. Tally the numbers and kinds of birds you see for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count (Friday, February 17 to Monday, February 20)
3. Go online and report what you saw; then view results real-time

You can also help count birds throughout the year at eBird.org—the online database of bird observations that provides real-time data about bird distribution and abundance. On eBird, you can record the birds you see (via bird checklists) and access interactive maps, graphs and charts of sightings worldwide. All of the features are available in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese.

If you think counting birds is for the birds, then instead, consider providing food, water and shelter for your backyard birds in honor of National Bird Feeding Month. Whether you live in a rural, suburban or urban environment, there are always birds that can be attracted to your yard. Here are a few simple tips for getting started:

Choose a Bird Feeder and Bird Seed

There are four main categories of bird feeders—tubes, hoppers, platforms and specialty:
1. Tube feeders are tall and slender and attract smaller birds such as songbirds
2. Hopper feeders resemble small houses, and attract birds of all sizes
3. Platform feeders are large trays that attract the greatest number of bird species
4. Specialty feeders hold nectar for hummingbirds or suet to attract woodpeckers, for example

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All three feeder types can dispense a variety of bird seed. I prefer hanging tube feeders for my backyard. They hold a lot of seed, they’re easy to clean and refill and they attract the birds I enjoy watching. I’ve found that hoppers don’t last as long, and platforms aren’t the best in the winter as the seeds get wet and blow off easily. As far as food, black-oil sunflower seed or an all-purpose seed mix are great choices. Research what birds are most common to your region and choose your feeder(s) and food accordingly.

Place Your Bird Feeder Where It’s Easy to See
I know it sounds obvious, but backyard bird watching is no fun if you can’t easily observe the birds! One of the reasons I enjoy watching birds is because I have the ideal backyard setup for bird watching. When I’m in my kitchen or dining room, I have a great view of all my bird feeders.

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Better yet, I have a sliding glass door that allows our indoor cat, Luke, to watch the birds all day. He loves to talk to the birds and has a variety of perches strategically placed near the sliding glass door so that he has several vantage points. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t have a backyard. You can get creative with a balcony, terrace, courtyard or even just a windowsill (there are bird feeders that mount with suction cups). Avoid placing bird feeders in places where they might be attacked by predators—especially outdoor cats.

Keep the Bird Feeder Clean and Full
In order for birds to know they can rely on your food source, it’s best to keep your feeder full. I try not to let my feeders get more than half empty, but since I have several, there’s always food available. I also provide food year-round. Even though food is more readily available in spring and summer, birds have their young to feed, and migrating birds may need a rest stop along the way.

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Clean your bird feeder regularly with warm, soapy water. Diseases can spread at feeders, especially where seeds and droppings mix. Doves and finches are especially vulnerable since they are ground feeders. To reduce the risk of disease, also clean your feeders at least once a year with a bleach solution (one part bleach to nine parts water).

Have Fun!
Bird watching is very relaxing, and it makes me feel good knowing that my backyard bird feeders are helping the neighborhood birds. I bought a field guide to the birds in my area so my son can help identify the various species we observe. Recently, I started photographing the birds in my backyard, which has proven to be quite a challenge as they don’t like the noisy sound of my shutter. I can’t be sure, but I think there is one regular who recognizes me behind my camera and poses once in a while for me.

Have you ever participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count? Do you have any bird watching tips? Let us know in the comments below!

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About the Author
  • I am a lover of all animals, especially cats! We have two at home, a red tabby named Milo and a black cat named Luke, both rescued off the streets in San Diego. There are so many benefits to being a pet parent! I've worked at Petco since 2008, and as a content marketer, there's nothing more rewarding than learning as much as I can about animals of all types! My areas of specialty include social content, video production, editing and photography. I get to work with animals of all types at our HQ—including dogs, cats, snakes, tarantulas, guinea pigs and lizards and I work closely with our animal care team to ensure our content is accurate, informative and entertaining. Email me anytime with your article ideas!
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