February 15, 2009
In our continuing effort to get children interested in science and collecting data, this past week education staff visited Babb School, East Glacier School, and West Glacier School to talk about birds in winter and the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC).
The GBBC is just one example of how anyone can help scientists collect data about wildlife. The count takes place every President's Day Weekend and can be done in as little as 15 minutes of bird watching. The Cornell Institute of Ornithology and Audubon are partners in the count, and when you go to the bird count website, you can watch a power point presentation that shows some of the interesting trends they have identified from the data that people across North America have been sending in on count weekends.
Counts of birds visiting backyard bird feeders are valid to include so we made pine cone bird feeders with the students that they could take home or put up at school (no bird feeders allowed within Glacier National Park as it's illegal to feed any wildlife within the park). Of course, even outside the park we made sure to include the caveat that bird food should only be put out in winter when bears are not active, that using food that fits closely with the birds' normal diets is best (bird seed, black sunflower seeds) and that providing native plants that provide natural food for birds is terrific for your yard. For the most part, it seems most bird biologists agree that supplemental winter feeding of songbirds with backyard bird feeders (that are properly cared for and cleaned) is not detrimental to their populations. The FAQ section of the GBBC website has more information about feeding wild birds.
Thanks to Flathead Audubon, the information that the students gather will be combined with data from schools throughout the Flathead Valley. It will be interesting to see the similarities and differences in the sightings from one side of the Continental Divide to the other!
As I said earlier, the GBBC is just one instance of how people are helping collect data that scientists can use to monitor wildlife population trends. If you are interested in helping to collect data, check out the Crown of the Continent Research Learning Center web page to find out about summer opportunities offered in Glacier National Park for people to be Citizen Scientists.