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How Manitobans can take part in this year’s Great Backyard Bird Count

A black-capped chickadee is observed at FortWhyte Alive during the Great Backyard Bird Count in Winnipeg on Feb. 17, 2024. (Zach Kitchen/CTV News Winnipeg) A black-capped chickadee is observed at FortWhyte Alive during the Great Backyard Bird Count in Winnipeg on Feb. 17, 2024. (Zach Kitchen/CTV News Winnipeg)
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The Great Backyard Bird Count is taking flight around the globe this weekend.

The annual event is a collaborative effort by conservation organizations to take stock of winter bird populations in different regions, and understand how the animals are impacted by habitat loss and climate change. Birds Canada spearheads the count across the nation every February – and is asking residents to take part.

From Friday, Feb. 16 to Monday, Feb. 19, Manitobans are asked to select a location like a park or trail, watch birds for at least 15 minutes, and identify birds seen or heard within that timeframe.

FortWhyte Alive’s Barret Miller told CTV News Winnipeg the wildlife preserve has participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count for at least 15 years.

“It’s a hotspot for birding, and a place where folks can come and learn to explore the hobby as citizen scientists,” Miller, FortWhyte Alive's group and corporate programs manager,  explained.

Miller said the bird count helps understand how bird populations, behaviours, and environments change year to year. He likens it to going to the doctor for a check-up.

“You establish a baseline, but if all of a sudden, a number is way high or way low one year, that could alert us to a potential problem on the landscape,” Miller explained. “And early detection helps us fix things. Bird [populations] going way up or way down could let us know something’s changing and we need to fix it.”

Miller said fluctuations in bird population could be the result of changes in weather patterns, food availability, or the presence of predators in the area.

He said FortWhyte Alive is home to several bird species in the winter months including sparrows, chickadees, nuthatches, and woodpeckers.

“We do have some owls, but we are trying to leave them to do their thing because it’s nesting season,” Miller explained. “They’re kind of sleepy during the daytime anyway.”

He said taking part in the Great Backyard Bird Count is a fantastic introduction to birding or birdwatching.

“Birding is a really good way to connect to your environment. You need to slow down, you need to observe, and you need to be conscious of habitat.”

For people new to birding, the Nature Conservancy of Canada suggests downloading an app like Merlin Bird ID to help identify different species.

After observing and identifying birds, the public is asked to submit their results on the Great Backyard Bird Count website.

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