New York's bird count needs help from public

Robert Cairns | The Daily StarA blue jay partakes of the offerings at a bird feeder Tuesday, April 7, in Delhi.

The public is invited to help count breeding birds during New York state’s third survey since 1980.

Data for New York State’s Breeding Bird Atlas is collected every 20 years for a period of five years. It tries to record when and where the state’s almost 250 bird species are breeding.

The information helps scientists determine what’s changed for the birds that breed in the state, Delaware-Otsego Audubon Society Co-President Andrew Mason said. 

For example, results of each Breeding Bird Atlas indicate the population of the Merlin, a small species of falcon, has seemingly increased across the state over the last 40 years, he said.

Mason said he expects the results of this atlas will reveal Merlins have dispersed across the state and are successfully nesting. On the other hand, he said many birds, particularly grassland species, were much more widespread in 1980 than 2000. 

“In this current atlas, we might see they’ve withdrawn even further,” Mason said. “Grasslands are one of the habitats disappearing fastest. That’s evidence that here’s a type of habitat we need to protect.”

Delaware-Otsego Audubon Treasurer Charlie Scheim said the survey can also trace how the climate is changing; for example, if birds that prefer cooler temperatures are observed to be moving higher into the mountains, that may indicate warming.

Aside from helping bird populations, atlasing is also a calming and social distance-friendly activity during these uncertain times, Scheim said.

“You’re out of your house in nature and it’s beautiful,” Scheim said. “I think it’s an excellent thing to do during this time. It’s very rewarding and gets you out of the house, gets you away from all the things that might worry you.”

Atlasing can be done alone or with someone else. If atlasing with someone who isn't a member of your household, stay at least six feet apart from them to prevent the further spread of COVID-19, Cornell Lab of Ornithology officials advised in a media release.

According to the release, volunteers record all the breeding species they observe in each atlas "block," which is a roughly 3-mile by 3-mile area. Volunteers can choose a single block or go atlasing in any block, but they must make sure each eBird checklist contains data for a single block.

To enter data online, create a free eBird account at www.bit.ly/39Sn63A or use the eBird mobile app. Atlasing instructions can be found at www.bit.ly/3aVAHby

Scheim and Mason said participants who can't or don't want to use the internet can mail their data to P.O. Box 544 Oneonta, NY 13820. Contact Scheim at 607-434-4880 for instructions on what kind of information to collect. The general Delaware-Otsego Audubon phone number is 607-397-3815 and its email address is info@doas.us.

Scheim and Mason said people don't need to have any birding experience to participate. 

"People can contribute at all kinds of levels," Scheim said. 

Shweta Karikehalli, staff writer, can be reached at skarikehalli@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7221. Follow her @DS_ShwetaK on Twitter.

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