Internet bird count set for weekend |

Internet bird count set for weekend

Patrick McCartney

Appealing to the nation’s 60 million bird watchers, the National Audubon Society will conduct a nationwide bird count this weekend through the Internet.

Co-sponsored by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, the Great ’98 Backyard Bird Count will help scientists understand how climate changes wrought by El Nino may affect migration patterns.

“It has become increasingly apparent that weather phenomena like El Nino may influence the winter movement of birds,” said Frank Gill, Audubon’s senior vice president for science. “If every one of the approximately 60 million bird watchers in the United States could participate, they would add significantly to our knowledge of how weather has impacted birds before they begin their journeys north.”

Unlike Audubon’s annual bird census, conducted each December by birding experts, this weekend’s bird count is open to anyone who can access Birdsource, the event’s home page on the World Wide Web. The page ( includes help with bird identification, a form to report bird counts, and a running tally of reports from across the country.

Counts may be made by observing bird feeders, or by taking walks in the neighborhood or at a park. Participants may spend as little or as much time on the survey as they like.

“It’s fun, it’s easy to participate in and it’s good for science,” said John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell ornithology lab. “All you need is a love of the outdoors and access to a computer … watching the count results will be like watching election returns from all across the country, right on your own computer screen.”

Warmer weather in the northern United States has changed the pattern of winter bird populations, Gill said. A record number of migratory bird species that usually winter in South and Central America are spending this winter in the northern states. Also a “super flight” of seed-eating finches have migrated from Canada into the eastern and central portions of the United States.

Such mass migrations of finches appear to be associated with good breeding years and a poor seed crop, especially of coniferous seeds.

Other unusual migratory patterns this year include an influx of western birds in the east, and an absence of goldfinches in their customary winter range in Texas.

Ornithologists hope the first-ever instantaneous bird count will help gain a deeper understanding of these population shifts, Gill said.

“Counts conducted in the past had a narrower focus,” Gill said. “They also mainly involved skilled, professional bird watchers, dedicated friends of birds and some amateurs. This is the first continentwide bird count in which everyone is invited to get involved via the Internet.”

Founded in 1903, the National Audubon Society has more than 550,000 members in 518 chapters.

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