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Great Backyard Bird Count

An english Sparrow sits on a branch in a Fremont backyard during the 2012 Great Backyard Bird Count.

Citizen scientists around the world will get out to enjoy nature and count feathered friends during the 16th annual Great Backyard Bird Count, Feb. 15-18.

Anyone from the casual observer to expert birder is welcome to watch birds from backyards, parks, gardens, wetlands and urban and rural landscapes.

Participants are asked to watch birds for at least 15 minutes, tally the numbers of each species they see, and report their findings at www.BirdCount.org.

Last year, 104,285 checklists were submitted from the United States and Canada, and more than 17.3 million birds were counted, representing 623 species.

The data collected during the count help biologists track bird movements and the health of bird populations during winter. 

"With a changing climate, bird distributions may be changing, and the Great Backyard Bird Count may help provide some answers," said Dave Titterington, owner of the Wild Bird Habitat Stores of Lincoln.

In recent years, bird count participants have seen northern species of such birds as red crossbills, common redpolls and red-breasted nuthatches in Nebraska. Titterington said that may indicate a scarcity of food up north.

He has been promoting the count statewide for 10 years and said the number of participants has increased gradually, with some Nebraska counts making the Great Backyard Bird Count's Top 10 lists.

"Nebraska's really had a great showing," Titterington said.

In Nebraska, participants counted 114,200 birds last year, accounting for 104 species, with the Canada goose topping the most-spotted list at 43,621.

Lincoln participants turned in 242 checklists last year and counted 58 species.

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Anyone with Internet access can participate in the joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Audubon and Bird Studies of Canada.

Visitors to the Great Backyard Bird Count website will be able to see bird observations pouring in from around the world. Global participation will be made possible thanks to eBird, a real-time online checklist program the Cornell Lab and Audubon are integrating into the count for the first time this year. 

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"We're eager to see how many of the world's 10,240 bird species will be reported during the count this year," Cornell Lab Director John Fitzpatrick said in a news release. "We're looking forward to this historic snapshot of birds that will be reported from around the world."

Smart-phone users will be able to upload counts from the field using the eBird BirdLog app for Apple or Android devices. To celebrate the new global reach of the count, developers of the app are offering regional versions for 99 cents through Feb. 18.

Titterington said people who do not have computer access can contact one of his stores and get a count form to fill out and return. Employees will enter their data. Call 402-420-2553 for more information.

To learn how to join the count, get bird identification tips, downloadable instructions, web buttons and fliers, visit www.BirdCount.org.

Reach Algis J. Laukaitis at 402-473-7243 or alaukaitis@journalstar.com.

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