The 17th annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is set to take place from February 14 through to February 17 in multiple locations all over the world. This four day event calls on bird watchers of all ages and levels of experience to count the birds they see in one location over a fifteen-minute period. Participants need only do one fifteen-minute stint, but are welcome to do more than that if they have the time. After tallying the number of individual birds of each species spotted within the fifteen-minute time period, birders enter the data on the GBBC website.
Data gathered from all over the world is valuable to researchers in many ways, particularly when it is compared with data collected in previous years. Information from the GBBC and other projects supported by citizen-scientists help researchers determine the health of various species by monitoring changes in populations; how the weather influences bird populations; changes in the timing of annual migrations; how diseases affect birds in specific regions; and where irruptive species go when they don’t visit the same location as the previous year. It also helps researchers with a comparison of bird diversity within city limits, suburbs, rural areas and reserves.
Through projects like the GBBC, modern technology offers birders the opportunity to be part of a worldwide community, while at the same time gathering information that no team of scientist would ordinarily be able to do. Thousands of people in more than one hundred countries will be participating in the event, which is supported by the National Audubon Society, Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada. It’s also the perfect opportunity for children to learn about the importance of birds within their environment, and how birds are an indicator of the general health of the ecology. So, why not do your bit and register for the 2014 Great Backyard Bird Count.
Technological advances, along with the dedication and patience of researchers, have resulted in the recent discovery of fifteen new bird species in the Amazon rainforest. The formal description of the fifteen birds has been presented in a special edition of the Handbook of the Birds of the World, adding to the sixteen volumes already published by Lynx Edicions in partnership with BirdLife International. Entitled “Special Volume: New Species and Global Index” the book includes descriptions of 84 new species, including the fifteen from the Amazon rainforest.
The Amazon rainforest, also referred to as Amazonia, covers most of South America’s Amazon Basin and includes parts of territories of nine different nations, with up to 60% of the region belonging to Brazil. Amazonia is the most species-rich region on the planet, with more than 1,300 species of birds – one in five of all of the world’s bird species – living in this region which also hosts migrating birds at different times of the year. Sadly, at the current rate of deforestation conservationists are of the opinion that the Amazon rainforest will be destroyed in the next 40 years – and birds, along with other animals that depend on this paradisiac part of the world, are paying the price.
Led by ornithologist Bret Whitney of the LSU Museum of Natural Science (LSUMNS) an international team of researchers was involved in the discovery of the new species. Noting that discovering such a large number of un-catalogued species was unexpected, Whitney went on to say that it highlighted how little is known about species diversity in Amazonia, as well as showing how technological advances are benefiting research efforts. Satellite imagery, DNA analysis, digital vocalization recordings and advance computation power have, in a way, opened up a new age of discovery. Current or former LSU students were involved in each of the fifteen discoveries, underscoring the work that Louisiana State University Museum of National Sciences has been consistently carrying out since the 1960s.