By Pat Naughton
Launched in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, the Great Backyard Bird Count was the first online citizen-science project to collect data on wild birds and to display results in near real-time. Now, more than 160,000 people of all ages and walks of life worldwide join the four-day count each February to create an annual snapshot of the distribution and abundance of birds.
It is easy to participate. Just go to gbbc.birdcount.org to create a free account for submitting checklists. Last year participants from over 100 countries identified more than 6800 species on more than 200,000 checklists. If you need help identifying birds, checkout The Cornell Lab of Ornithology website allaboutbirds.org/guide/search.
Bird seed feeders and suet cakes are a good way to attract birds. Birds also seek out seeds and berries from plants. By adding a few plants, you can create a habitat that will attract a wide variety of birds.
Native perennials that produce seeds for birds include black-eyed susans (Rudbeckia fulgida), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), ‘Fireworks’ goldenrod (Solidago rugosa), tickseed (Coreopsis species), swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius), aromatic aster (Aster oblongifolius) and panic grass (Panicum virgatum). To benefit birds, do not cut these perennials back in fall. Instead wait to cut them back in early spring to allow birds to feed on their seeds over winter. Evergreen plants, such as wax myrtle, yaupon (Ilex vomitoria), inkberry (Ilex glabra), and American holly (Ilex opaca), provide shelter from wind and rain and should be included in any wildlife habitat planting.
A habitat is more than a source of food, birds need places for nests. Nesting habitats are like an apartment building. Some birds prefer the ground floor while other prefer to the top floor penthouse. Planting layers of groundcovers, shrubs, small trees and large trees will allow many different kinds of birds to live in the same horizontal space. Cardinals, bluebirds, sparrows, and chickadees live here year round and are known as resident species. Planting evergreen trees and shrubs like holly or cedar is particularly important for resident birds that need places to shelter from weather and predators in winter.
To learn more about creating a backyard habitat for birds visit https://gardening.ces.ncsu.edu/wildlife/birds/