I often take birds for granted. They’re somewhere around me every day, but I rarely take notice.
Birds around here aren’t exotic birds with colorful feathers or fancy plumage, which may contribute to their ability to blend in and go unnoticed.
In other places on the globe, this is not the case. When I was in Trinidad this summer, I found myself paying a lot of attention to the birds. There were many different kinds and they were all very brightly colored.
On top of that, they also didn’t sound like the birds I’m used to hearing. We asked some local people about the birds and a lot of the locals didn’t take much notice of them. At first I didn’t understand how they could have so much exotic wildlife near them and not take notice, until I realized I do the exact same thing when I’m home in Kentucky.
Even though we may forget about birds, they are still very important. Birds are great early indicators of problems in our environment. There’s the old classic example of bringing canaries into mines to detect toxic gases, but there are more recent, relevant examples.
For example, when people still used DDT to treat their plants, bald eagle populations were decreasing because the chemical traveled through the air and weakened eagle eggs, making chicks less likely to survive. If vigilant humans had not been keeping an eye on the bald eagles, we may have never detected the problem until it was too late.
It doesn’t have to be scientists or conservationists who do all the bird watching and monitoring — there are lots of opportunities for everyone to have some fun spotting wildlife, while helping collect data on how populations of birds are doing.
One such opportunity is the Great Backyard Bird Count, which is organized by the National Audubon Society every year. During the Great Backyard Bird Count, people are encouraged to go outside, watch for birds and count how many are in their backyards.
To participate, you can simply spend as little or as much time as you want counting birds during the bird count’s four-day period, Feb. 17-20. After you watch for birds, you can go online to the Backyard Bird Count website (birdsource.org) and fill out an online checklist.
With the data collected by you and other bird watchers, the bird count may be able to help answer questions about birds — like how bird migrations this time around are comparing to previous migrations; and where diseases like West Nile virus are affecting bird populations.
The bird count also may identify any declines in population, which could be cause for concern.
You don't have to invest lots of time or money to really help make a positive impact, help the environment and make a difference. Whatever time you have available from Feb. 17-20, spend some time outside and count some birds. It may help keep them around that much longer.
Amanda's Animal Fact of the Week
The hum of a hummingbird is made by the bird’s rapid wing beats, up to 53 beats per second for a ruby-throated hummingbird.