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See the birdie? Grab your binoculars!

The Great Backyard Bird Count is under way

Magpies in park
Whether you count yellow-billed magpies in the local park (there are at least 18 in the photo, including some in the shade) or hummingbirds in the garden, you can be part of the Great Backyard Bird Count this weekend. (Photo: Kathy Morrison)

Here’s a way to help nature and entertain your kids – and you don’t even have to leave your backyard!

It’s the Great Backyard Bird Count, an exercise in citizen science that keeps tabs on our feathered friends.

Held from Feb. 12 through 15, this avian census relies on the sharp eyes of volunteers nationwide.

Co-hosted by the Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the GBBC is open to birdwatchers of all ages and abilities nationwide. And it’s free to participate.

The challenge is simple: Count how many birds you see during a 15-minute period (or more) during the four-day event in a specific space, such as your backyard. You also can count birds in a neighborhood park, along a stream or river, or wherever you like. The key: Document what you see including the bird species as well as number.

Handy tools are offered online to help with identification, such as Merlin Bird ID. (It can ID most of your sightings with three easy questions.) Also, take photos to help with that ID process (and to document your observation – experienced bird watchers will review your findings).

Then, submit your list of birds to the GBBC using the eBird tool (also available online).

Last year’s GBBC (before pandemic lockdowns) set all sorts of records. According to organizers, a total of 6,942 species were counted worldwide. In all, 249,444 checklists were submitted by an estimated 268,674 participants.

The most common sighting? That was the Northern Cardinal, with its familiar color and distinctive head. In terms of population, snow geese topped the charts with nearly 7.2 million included in this census.

With 13,331 checklists (a new state record), California topped all participating states in 2020 followed by New York, Texas and Florida. Many of those California lists came from the greater Sacramento area, always a hotbed of birding. (Hint: American crows are among our most frequently sighted birds.)

Organizers note that the GBBC is an ideal and safe activity during COVID-19 restrictions. Social distancing and face masks are encouraged if watching with others.

To participate or learn more:


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of Feb. 18:

It's wet to start the week. When you do get outside, between or after storms, concentrate on damage control:

* Keep storm drains and gutters clear of debris.

* Clean up tree debris knocked down by wind and rain.

* Where did the water flow in your garden? Make notes where revisions are necessary.

* Are any trees leaning? See disturbances in the ground or lawn around their base? Time to call an arborist before the tree topples.

* Dump excess water out of pots.

* Indoors, start peppers, tomatoes and eggplant from seed.

* Lettuce and other greens also can be started indoors from seed.

* Got bare-root plants? Put their roots in a bucket of water until outdoor soil dries out. Or pot them up in 1- or 5-gallon containers. In April, transplant the plant, rootball and all, into the garden.

* Browse garden websites and catalogs. It’s not too late to order for spring and summer.

* Show your indoor plants some love. Dust leaves and mist to refresh.

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