By Beth Daley, Globe Staff
Birds are notoriously hard to get a handle on. They don’t stay in one place, can travel thousands of miles in the course of a year and their populations can be governed by a slew of complicated forces from disease to climate change.
But you can help scientists learn more by counting birds in your backyard – or nature center, park or any public land – for at least 15 minutes (or much longer) between Friday and Monday as part of the 12th annual Great Backyard Bird Count.
At first glance it may not seem scientific. But the results of tens of thousands of people observing birds – last year more than 9.8 million birds of 635 species were counted in North America – helps researchers understand migratory and population trends, how winter snow and cold influence species or how bird diseases such as West Nile Virus are affecting birds in different areas. It might even help explain why Massachusetts is experiencing enormous roosts of robins this winter.
Each year that these data are collected makes them more meaningful and allows scientists to investigate far-reaching questions, according to the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology which host the count.
Here’s how to get started: Count the greatest number of individuals of each species that you see together at any one time.
If you need help identifying birds, print out the regional bird checklist to get an idea of the kinds of birds you’re likely to see in your area in February.
When you are done, enter results through the webpage (look for the button that says enter your checklists). While the count ends Monday, you have until March 1 to submit counts.
The count includes prizes and a photo contest. There is also a frequently asked question page that will help you conduct the most accurate count you can.
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