Jayden Zanetti, 9, clutched a copy of the Birds of the Carolinas field guide as he trekked around Yates Mill Pond with a group of bird enthusiasts.
He referenced the book when he heard different calls to learn more about the species he spotted, and when the group saw a bufflehead dive under the water, Zanetti showed the other children a photo of the duck so they could see it up close.
Zanetti was one of many North Carolina residents who flocked to parks, trails or even their own backyards this weekend to tally hundreds of species of birds as part of the 20th annual Great Backyard Bird Count.
This worldwide, four-day event, which runs through Monday, is led by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the National Audubon Society and Bird Studies Canada and encourages people to count birds for 15 minutes and report their results for research on the effects of climate change on the feathered creatures.
Wake County held GBBC events this weekend at its parks, including the Afternoon Backyard Bird Count at the Historic Yates Mill County Park. About 25 avid birdwatchers and beginners, including Zanetti, joined Rebeccah Cope, program director at the park, on a one-mile hike around the pond to help identify the birds they saw along the way.
The data collected enables scientists to evaluate fluctuations in bird populations and answer questions like: Where are different species from year to year or how does the weather influence populations?
With the big effort, we are going to find birds out of place, and they are going to tell us something about how bird habitats are shifting as our climate changes.
Kim Brand of Audubon North Carolina
“It’s incredibly helpful to send a ton of people looking for birds literally all over the place in the winter,” said Kim Brand, the bird-friendly communities coordinator with Audubon North Carolina. “With the big effort, we are going to find birds out of place, and they are going to tell us something about how bird habitats are shifting as our climate changes.”
And with temperatures peaking above 70 degrees in Raleigh on Sunday, some birdwatchers believed a few surprises could be spotted. Cope said the park in the past few years has had to cancel its GBBC events because of snow.
“But yesterday, there was – I’m pretty sure it was a bank swallow,” she said. “Swallows usually do not show up this early ... So spring is here.”
The Sunday afternoon group at the Historic Yates Mill County Park spotted turkey vultures, double-crested cormorants, diving ducks, Phoebes, pine warblers and a Carolina wren. They even heard a red-shouldered hawk.
While participation in GBBC is worldwide, North Carolina continues to be one of the most involved areas. In last year’s count, the state ranked seventh in participation among U.S. states, with residents turning in 5,521 bird checklists and documenting 200 species.
Scientists use this information not only to track where certain species are diminishing but also where they are becoming more prevalent.
One interesting species in North Carolina is the western hummingbird, Brand said.
“Now some of our western hummingbirds are spending the winter here,” she said. “There used to be no hummingbirds all winter long in North Carolina.”
Kathryn Trogdon: 919-829-4845: @KTrogdon
Other Great Backyard Bird Count events
Family Wildlife Series: Counting is for the Birds
Monday, 10-11 a.m. at Blue Jay Point County Park. Hear a bird story, try a fun bird activity or count how many kinds of birds can be seen from Blue Jay’s front porch. Older children will hike farther to expand bird count numbers while young children and their parents will make bird treats to take home. For all ages. Registration is required.
Harris Lake Bird Walk
Monday, 10-11 a.m. at Harris Lake County Park. Walk along the trails and shore to identify birds in various habitats of the park. For ages 4 and older.
Monday, 10-11 a.m. at Harris Lake County Park. In honor of Presidents Day and the GBBC, enjoy a morning at the park learning about America’s national symbol. Discover eagle habits and history, compare your arm span to an eagle’s wingspan and create an eagle craft. The program will end with a hike to the fishing pier to look for eagles soaring over Harris Lake. Cost is $1 per person. For ages 5 and older. Registration is required.
Monday, noon to 3 p.m. at Harris Lake County Park. Bring a picnic lunch. Many bird educational activities, games, crafts and hikes will be available. For all ages. Registration is required.
Discovery Table: National Birds
Monday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Historic Yates Mill County Park. Learn about the use of birds in national symbols and make a bird-themed Great Seal to take home. For all ages.
Monday, 11 a.m. to noon at Crowder District Park. Search for common birds of the park and count them along the way. Practice using binoculars and learn how to identify these animals by shape and color. For all ages. Registration is required.
Kids Get Crafty: Bird Bonanza
Monday, 1-2 p.m. at Crowder District Park. Stop by the craft table to create a “bird.” For all ages. Registration required.
Participation is free. To learn more, visit www.birdcount.org.