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Bundle up and head out for the 18th annual Great Backyard Bird Count

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Christopher L. Wood
Black-capped Chickadee
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Don Rash
Mourning dove
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Kevin Bolton
Cardinal

Visitors to Harrison Hills Park in Natrona Heights can count birds, report sightings and use the Merlin bird identification smart phone application as they take part in the 20th annual Great Backyard Bird Count Feb. 18.

“Visitors can expect to see many different backyard bird species at a very close range from inside our Environmental Learning Center,” say Patrick Kopnicky, a member of Friends of Harrison Hills Park.

Birds will be observed in 15-minute intervals. Books, binoculars and experienced bird watchers will help visitors learn to observe, identify and report sightings.

Woodpeckers, finches, sparrows, titmice, cardinals, nuthatches and mourning doves can be seen there this time of year, Kopnicky says.

“Goldfinches are yellow with black wings in the summer often thought of as canaries, but in winter they all turn grey-green with black wings,” Kopnicky says. “There are many varieties of sparrows that novice bird watchers refer to as ‘LBJs’ or little brown jobs.”

Kopnicky says with some guidance and reference guides, new observers should have more insight and confidence in making bird identifications.

“The best part is these same birds can be attracted to all local backyards with proper feeder offerings of seed and suet,” Kopnicky says.

Participants will develop a basic knowledge of making visual bird identifications. They also will learn how recording and reporting of their findings can contribute to worldwide bird population research.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is a worldwide online citizen science project of Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society to collect data on wild birds.

“They will become citizen scientists working from their homes,” Kopnicky says. “They will learn how to go online to submit their data to the Cornell Laboratory, the compiler of all of the data submitted.”

Free birding applications available on Apple and Android smartphones will help novices bird watchers. The Merlin Bird ID app asks users five questions — location, date, size of bird based on silhouettes, main colors and what the bird was doing — and based on time of year will suggest the most likely bird ID.

“After you submit your answers, Merlin will make its best suggestion in actual color photos, sounds of bird’s call and behavioral details,” Kopnicky says.

Another way to identify birds will be by photograph.

“Merlin just added a new amazing feature called Photo ID which operates apart from the five-question app,” Kopnicky says. “With Photo ID, you simply take a picture and submit to Merlin and get your ID immediately. It’s amazing and accurate.”

Kopnicky says Pennsylvania has been second to California in number of report submissions in prior years.

Those interested in doing their own bird count can get instructions at gbbc.birdcount.org.

Debbie Black is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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