Free Great Backyard Bird Count event on Feb. 15 at Ernie Miller Nature Center

Each year, biologists and researchers count on "you" to help them determine the health of North American bird populations. As part of this national annual effort, stop by for 15 minutes or sit a spell during a free public birding event at the Ernie Miller Nature Center on Saturday, Feb. 15. This will be the seventh year the local nature center is participating in the nationwide bird count, which is now in its 17th year.

The event is called the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) and will take place from 9 a.m. through 4 p.m. in the comfort of the Wildlife Viewing Room at the nature center located at 909 N. Kansas 7 Highway, Olathe. Participants can learn about birds which spend their winters in northeast Kansas from experienced birders with the Burroughs Audubon Society of Greater Kansas City. Likely candidates for viewing include northern cardinals, black-capped chickadees, American goldfinches, red-tailed hawks, and more. No reservations or registration is required for this event.

The GBBC helps researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the National Audubon Society, and Bird Studies Canada learn more about how the birds are doing, and how to protect them. In 2013, the event became a global count for the first time and shattered all previous records. Participants reported birds from all seven continents, including 111 countries and independent territories. Last year, participants turned in more than 134,935 checklists online. Altogether, bird watchers identified 4,004 species with more than 35.5 million bird observations.

While the GBBC is now a global event, it's interesting to note that the flocks counted in last year's event were all in our area. At the Mark Youngdahl Urban Conservation Area in St. Joseph, Missouri, observers estimated there were 5 million Red-winged Blackbirds along with a flock of 1.5 million American Robins. The second-largest flock was also reported from Missouri, 50 miles farther north at Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge, where multiple observers reported between 700,000 and 1.1 million Snow Geese.

More information on the national count can be found at www.birdcount.org. For more information on the local event contact the nature center at (913) 764-7759. To find this program in the JCPRD’s Activities catalog and online listings, browse first under fun for all and then under special events. In the catalog and when using the website’s advanced search, look for the keyword “birds.”

The nature center also continues to seek donations of supplies for both the animals kept at the center and the wild animals which come to the feeders. Among the items being sought are: bags of safflower or black oil sunflower seeds (no mixes, please); suet cakes and dried seed corn on the cob; and rolls of ¼ inch & 3/8 inch sisal rope for the owl perches.

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