The birds in your backyard could help scientists determine what's happening with the nation's feathered population.
For 13 years, birdwatchers across the United States have helped the Audubon Society and Cornell Lab of Ornithology conduct an annual bird census.
The Great Backyard Bird Count, which begins today and ends Monday, encourages people to spend at least 15 minutes identifying and counting all the birds they see.
The Yosemite Area Audubon Society, based in Mariposa, is encouraging its members to participate.
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"Every bit of data is important," said Len McKenzie, program chair for the Yosemite chapter. "In recent years the term citizen science has come into vogue, and it simply states that people without training can participate in various projects and their contributions are valuable."
The value is in a long-term database. Scientists are able to use the numbers to interpret trends and learn more about the collective welfare of bird species.
Last year, participants turned in more than 93,600 checklists. Last year's count helped scientists identify a population explosion of pine siskins on the East Coast, McKenzie said.
The count can be conducted at any location, but bird-count organizers say participants should plan on spending at least 15 minutes in a single spot. Members of the Yosemite Area Audubon Society will conduct counts every day of the four-day event.
Finished lists can be turned in online at www.birdcount.org/gbbc.
McKenzie said that one of his favorite routes is White Rock Road, which extends from Old Highway Road into Merced County. The Merced National Wildlife Refuge is also a good location to see a variety of species, he said.
Even people who are new to birdwatching can participate in some form, McKenzie said.
"I've always encouraged people to participate. Extra eyes and ears are always important to pick up movement and sound, or find a location," he said. "One of the pleasures of birding is that you can do it from anywhere and it doesn't require a big investment for equipment. It's a simple activity. It's fun, it's always challenging and for most of us, exciting."
Online editor Brandon Bowers can be reached at (209) 385-2464 or by e-mail at email@example.com.