Red Bird

The birds need you.

This weekend, two local institutions want to help anyone who’s concerned help the bird population.

This Saturday (Feb. 15) morning, Hungry Mother State Park is offering training to help prepare individuals to join in the worldwide Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC).

For its success, the annual GBBC depends on citizen scientists to take part.

Tanya Hall, Hungry Mother’s chief ranger for visitor experience, said, “’Citizen science’ means exactly what it sounds like. It is a chance for those of us who aren’t scientists or researchers by trade to be involved in the collection of vital data that is later used to teach, understand and advocate. The information gathered and shared by citizens can be pivotal in developing plans for conservation and preservation. Nature is fragile and needs many advocates. Citizen-science projects give all of us a chance to make a meaningful difference.”

GBBC is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society.

Experts from those institutions say, “There is no better time to get involved because we are facing a bird emergency.”

They pointed to a study published last fall by the journal Science in which scientists found that since 1970 the bird population in the U.S. and Canada has declined by more than one in four, or 3 billion birds.

However, there’s something simple that individuals can do: count birds for science.

Hungry Mother’s training will help anyone who wants to learn just how to count birds to do so.

The GBBC “is more than just a way to get you to focus on nature for a while,” said Hall, “it is also one of the most accessible citizen-science events of the year.”

On Saturday, Hungry Mother will partner with the Holston Rivers Chapter of Virginia Master Naturalist (VMN) to hold a morning-long event that includes a bird walk with experienced birders, a primer on how to identify birds, an introduction to bird song, and instructions on how to record observations and bird counts for the GBBC.

VMN volunteers will even cook a free breakfast for participants.

“Birds are a fascinating part of nature,” said Hall. “And they’re an important part of the ecosystem: they spread seeds, they help with pest control, and they even serve as a road clean-up crew. Birds are also in a fight for survival, as humans cut down their habitat and pave over their breeding grounds. This is a chance for us, as humans, to do something to support a colorful, fascinating, vital section of our natural world.”

The Hungry Mother training begins at 8 a.m. and runs until noon. Participants should meet at Parking Lot 5. For more information, call the Hungry Mother State Park Discovery Center at 276-781-7400 and look for details on Facebook on Virginia Master Naturalist Spring Training Class, Great Backyard Bird Count Hungry Mother State Park.

This year’s count begins on Valentine's Day, Friday, Feb. 14, and continues through Monday, Feb. 17. Volunteers from around the world count the birds they see for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count, and then enter their checklists at birdcount.org. The data is submitted to eBird and is then compiled to provide a look at how birds are doing. It gives more data to scientists who then study trends in population and migration.

The Blue Ridge Discovery Center in Troutdale is also hosting a GBBC event on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The center staff invites individuals to join them at BRDC cottage anytime during the four-hour period to document birds found at the center.

The center’s Facebook page encourages interested individuals to “stop in and share 15 minutes of your time in this worldwide citizen-science project with us. Or bring a sack lunch and hang out longer.”

BRDC does ask that participants register.

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