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Help local birds in 15 minutes – from your own backyard

Finches eat from a bird feeder at a Sacramento home. During Presidents Day weekend, the Great Backyard Bird Count attempts to tally birds of all sorts, starting with those in people’s backyards.
Finches eat from a bird feeder at a Sacramento home. During Presidents Day weekend, the Great Backyard Bird Count attempts to tally birds of all sorts, starting with those in people’s backyards. Sacramento Bee file

Do you know your hummingbirds from your finches? It’s time for the Great Backyard Bird Count, one of the nation’s largest annual exercises in citizen science and an important census of our feathered friends.

This super-simple survey lets bird watchers of all ages submit their hyper-local observations online. The totals create a clearer picture of what’s happened to bird species, not just in North America, but worldwide. Bird experts are particularly interested this year in the effects of wildfires, hurricanes and other natural disasters that may have impacted different species.

How does it work? For at least 15 minutes between Friday, Feb. 16, and Monday, Feb. 19, participants are asked to observe the birds in a specified area of their choice, such as their own backyard. Bird watchers also can take a stroll through their neighborhood, visit a local park or go to other viewing areas as long as they keep track of the time and the birds. (Where large flocks are seen, estimates are OK.) If they watch more than one site, participants may submit multiple lists.

To complete a bird checklist, go to BirdCount.org and follow the links. Local experts will review submissions and may ask for confirmation of rarities. (If you see something you suspect is special, take a photo with your smartphone.) The website also has handy hints on bird watching, identification guides and suggested checklists by zip code with the various species most likely to be seen.

Organized by the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, this event has grown amazingly since its debut 20 years ago. In 1998, about 13,500 checklists were submitted by birdwatchers in the United States and Canada. In 2017, an estimated 240,000 volunteers in 100-plus countries completed 181,606 checklists, totaling some 29.6 million birds and 6,262 species – more than half the world’s known bird species.

Wild Birds Unlimited, which has stores in Roseville Square and Loehmann’s Plaza in Sacramento, sponsors the event and also supplies local expertise. In addition to counting your own birds, you can explore the results online. In the 2017 count, 158 species were recorded in Sacramento.


▪  Dig into spring and summer flowers. You can transplant or direct-seed several flowers, including snapdragon, candytuft, lilies, astilbe, larkspur, Shasta and painted daisies, stock, bleeding heart and coral bells.

▪  In the vegetable garden, plant Jerusalem artichoke tubers and strawberry and rhubarb roots. Transplant cabbage and its close cousins – broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts – as well as lettuce (both loose leaf and head).

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

▪  Plant artichokes, asparagus and horseradish from root divisions. Plant potatoes from tubers and onions from sets (small bulbs). The onions will sprout quickly and can be used as green onions in March.

▪  From seed, plant beets, chard, lettuce, mustard, peas, radishes and turnips.

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