Everyone Can Be a Part of the February Global Bird Count!

Everyone Can Be a Part of the February Global Bird Count! Courtesy Cornell Lab of Ornithology on behalf of Great Backyard Bird Count, GBBC.org
Courtesy Cornell Lab of Ornithology on behalf of Great Backyard Bird Count, GBBC.org

Gray-crowned Rosy Finch Courtesy & Copyright Hilary Shughart, Photographer Gray-crowned Rosy Finch
Courtesy & Copyright Hilary Shughart, Photographer

There are deeply concerning drops in bird populations, and shifting migration ranges and patterns are changing before our eyes, but on the bright side, the crisis presents a strong reason and opportunities for even the most novice birders to be a part of the solution, to contribute to environmental conservation through community science. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the National Audubon Society, and Birds Canada urge us to walk into nature and count birds for the mid-February Global Bird Count known as the Great Backyard Bird Count. February is the month to help scientists better understand global bird populations before one of their annual migrations, and the data collected will help bend the curve for bird survival.

“Spend time in your favorite places watching birds–then tell us about them! In as little as 15 minutes notice the birds around you. Identify them, count them, and submit them to help scientists better understand and protect birds around the world. If you already use eBird or Merlin, your submissions over the 4 days count towards GBBC.”

Everything you need to know will be shared in a free online webinar, so “Get ready to flock together for the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC)! Panelists will explain how to participate in this exciting global event and how participation might extend past your back door. Discover how to join a group taking part in the GBBC and explore fun ways to involve kids. From bird ID tips to counting birds with ease, this webinar is your ticket to an engaging and confident GBBC experience.”

We’ve posted links for local parks and trails with eBird printable checklists, and it’s encouraging to see the number and variety of species accessible right in town, and in our nearby National Forests and Wilderness Areas. Will you see American Robins, Black-billed Magpies, and Northern Flickers? Can you tell the difference between the American and the Lesser Goldfinch, or the Mountain and Black-capped Chickadee? Will you get lucky and spot a Gray-crowned Rosy finch feasting on black oil sunflower seeds in your own backyard?

There’s no time like the present to establish new traditions for connecting with nature and being part of the solution to the climate challenge. There are ample online resources for new and experienced birders, and in addition to the four local Utah Audubon Chapters, the Birding in Utah Facebook group provides a birding community with expert help with learning how to identify birds even in blurry photos. Team up to be a part of the constellation of community scientists documenting history, and weaving a safety net to ensure that birds have the places they need to thrive today and tomorrow.

I’m Hilary Shughart with the Bridgerland Audubon Society, and I am wild about the National Audubon initiative to promote community science for Bird-Friendly communities, and I am Wild About Utah!

Images: Courtesy Great Backyard Bird Count, Cornell Lab of Ornithology et. al.
Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch: Courtesy & Copyright Hilary Shughart
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections/kevin-colver
Text: Hilary Shughart, President, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Hilary Shughart and Lyle Bingham, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading

Other Wild About Utah pieces authored by Hilary Shughart

Global Bird Count in February, Great Backyard Bird Count, https://www.birdcount.org/

About the Great Backyard Bird Count, Every February, count for as little as 15 minutes in your own backyard to help expand our understanding of birds. National Audubon, https://www.audubon.org/conservation/about-great-backyard-bird-count

Global Bird Count in February; Great Backyard Bird Count, Birds Canada, https://www.birdscanada.org/bird-science/great-backyard-bird-count

eBird Field Checklist Sue’s Pond–Logan River Wetlands and Shorebird Playa (178 species), Cache, Utah, https://ebird.org/printableList?regionCode=L586105&yr=all&m=

Who Likes What: The Favorite Birdseed of Feeder Regulars and Rarities, Here are the top three seed choices for a variety of species, per a scientific observational study of 1.2 million bird feeder visits. National Audubon, https://www.audubon.org/news/who-likes-what-favorite-birdseed-feeder-regulars-and-rarities

Birding: The Basics & Beyond (1 hr 12 mn video), Natural Habitat Adventures & WWF(World Wildlife Fund), https://www.nathab.com/traveler-resources/webinars/your-daily-dose-of-nature/birding-the-basics-beyond/

Bridgerland Audubon Great Backyard Bird Count Page, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/birding-tools/birding-events/great-backyard-bird-count/

Howe, Frank, Rosy Finches, Local Bird Spotlight, The Stilt, Bridgerland Audubon Society, December 2009, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/documents/BAS-Stilts/Stilt-2009/Vol%2038%20Image%2010.pdf

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Gray-crowned_Rosy-Finch/overview#

“Get ready to flock together for the 2024 Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC)! Panelists will explain how to participate in this exciting global event and how participation might extend past your back door.”
Beyond the Backyard: All About the Great Backyard Bird Count Webinar, Tuesday, February 13, 1:00-2:00 p.m. Eastern, https://dl.allaboutbirds.org/2024gbbcwebinar

Finding the Black Rosy-Finch

Black Rosy-Finch Courtesy & © Janice Gardner, Photographer
Black Rosy-Finch (cropped)
Courtesy & © Janice Gardner, Photographer

Newly Banded Adult Male Black Rosy-Finch Courtesy & © Kim Savides Newly Banded Adult Male
Black Rosy-Finch
Courtesy & © Kim Savides

Rosy Finch Study Wild Utah ProjectRosy-Finch Study, Wild Utah Project

High in the snow-covered mountains of Northern Utah, Kim Savides, a graduate student in the Department of Wildland Resources at Utah State University waits for the daily avalanche report during winter months. If favorable, she ventures out to remote bird feeders in hopes of finding black rosy-finches.

The finches thrive in bad weather. When it’s a clear, sunny day Savides knows her likelihood of seeing a finch is slim. But on nasty, snowy, windy days she can count on seeing hundreds of the finches around the feeders.

Most of the bird feeders are on Utah’s beautiful ski resorts such as Alta and Powder Mountain. On blizzard-like days when skiers are choosing to staying home, Savides is heading up the slopes.

Clark Rushing, assistant professor in Department of Wildland Resources in the Quinney College of Natural Resources and principal investigator on the project explains, “To catch these black rosy-finches, we’re travelling to locations when the weather is at its worst. They are extremely hardy birds, how they survive in those conditions is pretty astounding. They are small birds weighing only a few ounces.”

Due to the warming temperatures, the black rosy-finch populations may be at risk.

Scientists fear the finch numbers may be decreasing, based on the reports from bird watchers who say they are seeing much less of the attractive bird. Researchers are concerned it may be a result of climate change.

Rushing explains, “The black rosy-finch has a small breeding distribution confined to very high elevation sites. Climate change may drive this species to smaller and smaller population sizes and possible extinction because as climate warms these sites, where the finches can breed, they will get smaller and smaller. The birds could eventually get pushed off the tops of the mountains with nowhere to go.”

According to the Wild Utah Project, “The black rosy-finch is one of the least-understood birds in North America. We understand little about its reproduction, population status, survival rates, or migratory tendencies.” Without this information wildlife managers can do little to help conserve its population.

Savides’ goal is to assist in gathering enough data so wildlife managers may begin to understand the life cycle of the finch and plan for conservation efforts.

Her project began by setting up mist nets around the feeders to catch the birds. Once caught, the finches were gently held while a micro-chip bracelet was attached to their legs.

Each time one of the tagged finches approaches a feeder, equipped with a radio frequency reader, the bird’s visit is logged.

The finches tagged last year are now returning. The data is beginning to be gathered.

Recognizing the amount of data needed, researchers have expanded the data gathering to include citizen scientists. These are residents of Utah who volunteer to be trained to identify the black rosy-finches. In the winter when the birds come down to lower elevations, in certain parts of the state, residents can report when they see the finches.

Any resident interested in becoming a citizen scientist can go to the Wild Utah Project website and receive more information.

As more and more data are gathered, researchers and wildlife managers can begin understanding the phenology of when the finches come down to lower elevations, when they return to higher elevations to breed, and how likely they are to survive from one year to the next. This knowledge could help with conservation efforts.

This is Shauna Leavitt and I’m Wild About Utah.

Photos: Courtesy & © Janice Gardner
      Courtesy & Copyright © Kim Savides,
      Courtesy & Copyright © Wild Utah Project
Lead Audio: Courtesy and © Kevin Colver
Text: Shauna Leavitt, Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University

Sources & Additional Reading

Greene, Jack, Rosy Finches, Wild About Utah, March 11, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/rosy-finches/

Gardner, Janice, Rosy Finch Study, Wild Utah Project, Fall/Winter 2019/2020, https://sagelandcollaborative.org/rosy-finch/ [link updated January 2024 – note WildUtahProject.org transformed to SagelandCollaborative.org]

Strand, Holly, A Big Year in Utah, Wild About Utah, October 27, 2011, https://wildaboututah.org/a-big-year-in-utah/

Black Rosy-Finch Identification, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Black_Rosy-Finch/id

Gray-Crowned Rosy-Finch Identification, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Gray-crowned_Rosy-Finch/id

Black Rosy Finches, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Department of Natural Resources, https://fieldguide.wildlife.utah.gov/?species=leucosticte%20atrata

Gray-crowned Rosy Finches, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Department of Natural Resources, https://fieldguide.wildlife.utah.gov/?Species=Leucosticte%20tephrocotis

Black Rosy Finches, UtahBirds.org, https://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/Profiles/BlackRosyFinch.htm

Gray-crowned Rosy Finches, UtahBirds.org, https://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/ProfilesD-K/GrayCrownedRosyFinch.htm

Black & Gray Rosy Finches, Tim Avery Birding, http://www.timaverybirding.com/photos/thumbnails.php?search=black+Rosy-Finches&album=search&title=on [Link updated January 2024]

Phenology Tools for Community Science
USA National Phenology Network, https://www.usanpn.org/
Nature’s Notebook Education Program, US National Phenology Network, https://www.usanpn.org/nn/education

North American Bird Phenology Program, USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, https://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bpp/BecomeAParticipant.cfm

eBird, https://www.ebird.org/

iNaturalist, https://www.inaturalist.org/