Feed the birds....and count them, too

DERRY NEWS/File photoA woodpecker feasts on suet during a winter afternoon. The New Hampshire Audubon Society is asking bird lovers to watch their feeders and respond to the annual winter bird survey

Fill up those bird feeders and dig out the binoculars for New Hampshire Audubon’s Backyard Winter Bird Survey.

The Audubon Society is asking people to once again take a peek outside this winter and count the number and types of birds they see.

The annual statewide survey is held on Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 9 and 10, and biologists need assistance from citizens all over the Granite State to get a clear picture of what’s really happening with winter birds.

Last winter, experts say there were good amounts of food including berries, seeds, nuts and cones to make many species of birds happy.

Birds took advantage of the ample food and possibly spent more time in the woods and possibly away from the backyard feeders.

One of the most common feeder birds — the black-capped chickadee — has lower numbers coming to the feeders based on previous bird count efforts.

Audubon biologists particularly want to find out if the chickadee population has recovered its numbers this winter.

Data from the Backyard Winter Bird Survey is used to track changes in the distribution and abundance of many species.

Each year about 1,500 bird watchers across the state count the birds coming to their feeders.

“With over 30 years of data we can track long term ups and downs of species such as the chickadee," survey coordinator Rebecca Suomala said. "Although they were at a record low in 2018, we can see that their numbers have fluctuated widely over time with low years followed by high peaks."

Reports of a lack of birds are just as valuable as reports of many birds.

“If everyone reported only when they have a lot of birds, we wouldn’t be able to see the declines,” Suomala said. "The most important thing is to participate each year regardless of how many or how few birds you have. This provides a consistent long-term set of data that shows both the ups and downs."

Some bird fans in the area are seeing many different types of birds at their feeders this winter.

Derry resident Kate Corbett loves feeding the birds near her home and has several feeders ready with seed and suet for birds to enjoy this winter.

"We have been seeing bluebirds, cardinals, red bellied woodpeckers, starlings, grackles, dark-eyed juncos and house finches," Corbett said. "Lots of birds. It's such a calming hobby."

Samantha Driscoll lives in East Derry and said she is seeing mostly tufted titmice, black-capped chickadees, cardinals, white-breasted nuthatches and dark-eyed juncos at her feeders this winter.

"My favorite bird I have spotted this winter has been the American tree sparrow," Driscoll said. "Such a cute species."

And Ruth Kay of Derry said bird watching is a family favorite.

"Our family has been cataloguing birds at our feeders and in our yard since 1988," she said. "We have the handwritten logs with birds seen by date."

It's not just the smaller birds that need to be counted. Wild turkeys took advantage of abundant acorns last winter with 2,876 tallied as an official count.

Audubon senior biologist Pam Hunt said this past fall showed fewer acorns and less of the natural food crops birds enjoy.

That means some birds left for the winter due to less food.

"This past fall, natural food crops were very poor and that means some birds have left for the winter," Hunt said. "Blue jays are linked to acorn crops and with so few acorns this year, they have headed south for better feeding. This winter, we’re also missing the dark-eyed juncos which smashed their previous record last year. They have likely returned to their typical wintering areas farther south in the absence of good local natural food crops.”

Anyone can participate in the Backyard Winter Bird Survey by counting the birds in their own backyard on survey weekend and reporting online or sending results on a special reporting form to New Hampshire Audubon.

To receive a copy of the reporting form and complete instructions, e-mail name and address to bwbs@nhaudubon.org or call 603-224-9909. Forms are also available at Audubon centers in Auburn and Concord, and online. For additional information, visit nhaudubon.org under Get Outside-Birding.

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