Contact: John Bianchi 212/979-3026 jbianchi@xxxxxxxxxxx AUDUBON AND CORNELL LAB OF ORNITHOLOGY INVITE EVERYONE TO JOIN THE SEVENTH ANNUAL GREAT BACKYARD BIRD COUNT Learn How to Make Your Backyard and Family 'Bird-friendly' While Contributing Your Time to Bird Conservation New York, NY & Ithaca, NY, January 20, 2004 - In the United States, an average of 2.1 million acres of land is converted to residential use every year. Eighty percent of U.S. households have private lawns, more than any other country in the world. This enormous, though often overlooked, habitat is crucial in efforts to save North American birds and the natural resources they depend upon. If only people knew its value, and just how easy it could be managed by the millions of bird and nature lovers that own backyards, as healthy havens for wildlife - and not-so-wild life. From February 13-16, 2004, bird enthusiasts are invited to take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), a project developed and managed by the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, with sponsorship from Wild Birds Unlimited storeowners and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) of the U.S. government, and with participation from Bird Studies Canada for the first time. During the event, everyone who enjoys birds will be able to submit their observations through BirdSource www.birdsource.org <http://www.birdsource.org>. Whether they spend a few minutes or several hours counting birds, GBBC participants will help scientists determine the status of birds continentwide. At the same time, the project will teach participants how to turn their backyards into real, useful habitat for birds. "Improving backyards is an important way to create greenways for birds between parks and wild areas," said Frank Gill, Audubon's Director of Science. "Yards allow for the cultivation of native plants and provide essential sanctuary to migratory and resident birds. Participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count gives people a first-hand view of how important bird-friendly backyards are to many bird species." The purpose of the Great Backyard Bird Count is to track the abundance and distribution of North America's winter birds, as a means to ensure that common birds remain common, especially during a time when birds face many environmental hurdles. "The Great Backyard Bird Count is a terrific way for individuals, families, schools, and community groups to contribute to a better understanding of birds," says Gill. "Another way is to create healthy backyard habitat, especially during this time of environmental challenges that includes habitat loss and degradation." An important step in creating healthy habitats is to become a "bird-friendly family." Going on a family bird-watching outing and keeping a yearly list of the birds that visit the yard are examples of ways families can become bird-friendly. Keeping a pair of binoculars and a field guide handy are particularly good for encouraging children to learn more about birds and the habitat right around their home. "Kids are naturally curious about the environment in which they live, and birds are a terrific window into that environment," says John Fitzpatrick, Director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. "Because children are the environmental caretakers of the future, it's important that we do all that we can to foster their interest in the natural world." In preparation for the GBBC, participants are invited to visit the web site for suggestions on how to become a bird-friendly family. They are also invited to explore the "Audubon At Home" site to learn the best ways to improve the health and diversity of their backyards with native plants, water, and other wildlife-friendly elements. By promoting the basic messages: reduce pesticide use; conserve water; protect water quality; plant native species; and remove exotic pests, "Audubon At Home" seeks to involve everyone in creating healthier habitat for birds, other wildlife, and people, too. Researchers hope that by learning more about the birds and habitats in their own backyards, families will decide to become part of Project FeederWatch, a winterlong survey of birds that visit feeders. "FeederWatch data have been instrumental in our analyses of winter finch movements and Varied Thrush cycles, and have even helped us track a new avian disease, mycoplasmal conjunctivitis, or House Finch eye disease," says Fitzpatrick. "We have thousands of dedicated FeederWatchers to thank for many new scientific findings important for bird conservation." Gill adds, "Hand in hand with participating in Great Backyard Bird Count and Project FeederWatch, it's important to remember that when we invite birds and wildlife into our yards we are responsible for keeping these guests safe from man-made hazards." He points out that more than 100 million and perhaps as many as a billion birds are killed each year when they collide with windows. Instructions about minimizing window kills, proper placement of birdhouses and feeders, keeping house cats indoors, and removing other threats to the health and safety of wild creatures will be available to participants and anyone who visits the Great Backyard Bird Count web site. In addition to offering bird-friendly tips, this year's GBBC will again help participants across the continent identify puzzling backyard species, especially those that are easily confused with other species like the American Tree Sparrow, which to the uninitiated can look much like the more southernly wintering Chipping Sparrow. The site will also explain why some familiar bird names have been changed. For example: the much-loved Rufous-sided Towhee is now considered to be two species by the scientific community, the Eastern Towhee (in the East) and the Spotted Towhee (in the West). As always, the GBBC web site also includes a vocabulary section, bird-watching and bird-feeding tips, bird vocalizations, and more, including information about Project FeederWatch and House Finch eye disease. Educators will find the bibliography and geography sections especially handy, and there are even suggestions on how to conduct the count with groups of children. Instructions for participating can be found at www.birdsource.org <http://www.birdsource.org/>/gbbc. There's no fee or registration. Those who would like to participate but aren't online can try their local library. Many Wild Birds Unlimited storeowners, as proud supporters of the count, are online to accept reports and, in support of GBBC, are donating a portion of purchases made by their customers. Libraries, businesses, nature clubs, Scout troops, and other community organizations interested in promoting the GBBC or getting involved can contact the Cornell Lab of Ornithology at 800/ 843-2473 (outside the U.S., call 607/254-2473), 159 Sapsucker Woods Road, Ithaca, New York 14850, or Audubon at citizenscience@xxxxxxxxxxx <mailto:citizenscience@xxxxxxxxxxx> or 215/355-9588, Ext 16, Audubon Science Office, 545 Almshouse Road, Ivyland, PA 18974. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a nonprofit membership institution interpreting and conserving the earth's biological diversity through research, education, and citizen science focused on birds. Audubon is dedicated to protecting birds and other wildlife and the habitat that supports them. Our Citizen Science programs for bird enthusiasts, and advocacy on behalf of Important Bird Areas, engage millions of people of all ages and backgrounds in positive conservation experiences. # # # Editors, please note: Reproduction quality electronic photographs of several dozen bird species are available from Audubon through the media relations department. Please contact: Kristy Wright 212/979-3027 kwright @audubon.org John Bianchi 212/979-3026 jbianchi@xxxxxxxxxxx You are subscribed to Audubon-News. To unsubscribe, send email to audubon-news-request@xxxxxxxxxxxxx with 'unsubscribe' in the Subject field. 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