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LARSON: An activity that’s for the birds

Last year, after reading about the yellow-bellied sap sucker in a Daily Post blog, I tried to find out more about the bird. Not only did I learn more than I could ever want to know, but I found myself clicked in at www.allaboutbirds.org, a website posted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

It’s not just pages of pretty pictures of birds and their habitats. It’s all about ways we as bird lovers can get involved with actual ornithological research. It lists about a dozen citizen-science projects anyone can participate in. Like a real scientist doing real research. OK, so you don’t get paid for it like a real scientist would. But my master’s degree in science and math education, which never landed me a paying job, does keep my appetite whet for science and statistics. And if I were still a Cub Scout leader, I know this is something I would do with my little guys. Surely it would apply to some sort of badge for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts as well.

The various projects include Celebrate Urban Birds, Pigeon Watch and Breeding Bird Atlases. For real pros, there is even a category called Cam Clickr for people with nest cameras which has brought in over 600,000 images. But the easiest project of all is the Great Backyard Bird Count which runs from Feb. 14 through 17. All you have to do is create an online account and for at least one of those days count birds in your backyard — or anywhere — for at least 15 minutes. That’s it. That’s all it takes to be a scientist and contribute to this worthy cause. The more sightings you submit, the better your chances of going down in posterity as one of the top 100 eBirders in Gwinnett County. If you really get into it, there is an option to record your sightings all year long.

Last year Susan Coker of Lilburn followed my suggestion and plans to count along with me again this year.

“It’s fun, and I wish more people would get involved,” Coker said. “I think it’s very educational for school children and, of course, adults. Entering your observations on the computer is a good learning experience for kids — and adults. It makes me get out my bird identification book. I have one called “Birds of Georgia Field Guide” by Stan Tekiela, and it’s ordered by color and size, so it makes it easy to id a bird. It’s a fun family activity.”

I, too, wish more people would get involved in this scientific study. Of course I know many will be watching the Olympics next weekend, but maybe if just one percent of the 800,000 of us who live in Gwinnett took a 15-minute break from the television and tuned into their own backyard, we could set a world record of our own.

Susan Larson is a writer from Lilburn. Email her at susanlarson79@gmail.com.