Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Great Backyard Bird Count -- Are YOU Ready?

Tomorrow begins this year's Great Backyard Bird Count, and we are getting ready around here.  If your family hasn't participated before, now's your chance to get in on the action as "citizen scientists"!  In as little as 15 minutes on one day or as long as you want to on all four days, your family can collect and report data on birds in your geographic area in the wintertime.

Why is this such a big deal?  According to the GBBC website, the count helps scientists in North America answer questions like:
  • How will this winter's snow and cold temperatures influence bird populations?
  • Where are winter finches and other “irruptive” species that appear in large numbers during some years but not others?
  • How will the timing of birds’ migrations compare with past years?
  • How are bird diseases, such as West Nile virus, affecting birds in different regions?
  • What kinds of differences in bird diversity are apparent in cities versus suburban, rural, and natural areas?
  • Are any birds undergoing worrisome declines that point to the need for conservation attention?
The GBBC website has a fabulous "Learn About Birds" section, which offers Online Bird Guide, Tricky IDs, and Bird-Feeding Tips pages.  I also liked the "For Educators" page, with information on ways to get kids involved; illustrations and photos of feeders types; and photos of homemade bird feeders -- great ideas for a project!  The "Backyard Activities" page has some great suggestions for studying birds at home, which is valuable for homeschoolers.  There's enough material here for a birds unit study.

To get your children excited and on board (because "Hey, kids! Let's count birds for four days!" doesn't shimmer with pizzazz), check out the "GBBC for Kids" page.  There are online photos of birds, coloring pages, jigsaw and word seek puzzles, and a video bird quiz and other games.  Also, make sure to emphasize how important the bird count is, and that the data your family submits is of extreme importance to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Audubon Society, Bird Studies Canada, and other scientists who rely on citizen-scientists like us!

 Here's how we're getting ready.  First off, I'm filling all our feeders to the brim: black oil sunflower seeds and cranberries in the tray feeder; nyjer seed in the finch feeder; black oil sunflower seed in the tube feeder; seed all over the ground for the groundfeeders; and homemade suet in the two suet feeders.  You can buy suet cakes at the grocery store, but I've been making my own for three years because it's so easy.  Homemade suet is cheaper than store-bought, takes five minutes to mix up, and is favored by birds, who need the extra fat in winter.  Woodpeckers especially love suet.  One caveat: don't use homemade suet in warm weather because it melts into a messy goo.

My recipe, you ask? Well, today I mixed solid bacon grease (saved expressly for this purpose), lard, cranberries, diced apple, and black oil sunflower seed.  I spread it in an 8-inch square pan that I'd sprayed with olive oil spray beforehand.  It's now hardening in the fridge.  In a little bit, I'll cut it into four square cakes and put two each into my suet feeders.  Delish!  The recipe changes, depending on what I have on hand.  If no bacon grease, then I use peanut butter.  Sometimes I add raisins or dried cranberries.  I also use mixed seed when I have it.  I never bother to measure anything.  I bought the lard from my grocery three years ago (a bucket of it), and it's still fine.  That stuff keeps.

Everything's ready for the Great Backyard Bird Count.  I wonder if we'll have any new visitors at our feeders tomorrow?


  1. Just out of nosiness, do you use lard to make pie crusts, biscuits and stuff?

  2. BTW I just made some Icebox cookies and frosted them with your frosting recipe. It is great on the vanilla ones, but on the chocolate; it is too good! Makes icebox cookies a true treat. We sprinkled them with red sugar for Valentine's Day. It's a little early, but you gotta do when you can!

  3. I'm going to have to try the cookies with the frosting. Yummo! As to the lard, no, I only use it for the birds. I get my pie crusts from the grocery!


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