Warmer temperatures and lack of snow in this part of the country are setting the stage for what could be a most intriguing Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), a four-day count that starts Friday, Feb. 17, and runs through Monday, Feb. 20.

In past years, as many as 70 individuals in Botetourt County have participated in the count that takes as little as 15 minutes of observation on any particular day of the count, but more recently, the number participating has not been as high, and last year only a dozen Botetourt residents made reports during the GBBC. They reported seeing 41 different species.

Across Virginia, participants reported seeing 177 different species of birds during the four-day count, and across the United States, participants reported seeing 655 bird species. Worldwide, 160,000 participants in 130 countries reported seeing 5,689 species of birds and counted 18.67 million individual birds.

Locally, folks like Genevieve Goss and Margaret Roston hope to see the number of participants go back up in Botetourt.

Goss has been urging Botetourt folks to take part in the 20th annual international count through her contacts through the Botetourt Community Partnership and Valley Conservation Council, and Roston, who lives in Blacksburg, has been asking the media to spread the word.

During the four days, participants count birds at any location they wish for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count and then enter their tallies at www.birdcount.org. Anyone can participate in the free event, and no registration is required.

Bird watchers– which could mean you– across the US and Canada will tally millions of birds in the annual count coordinated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Audubon and Canadian partner Bird Studies Canada.

These data capture a picture of how bird populations are changing across the continent year after year– a feat that would be impossible without the help of tens of thousands of participants.

The results are reported by community, and those numbers can be accessed through the Audubon website at http://www.audubon.org.

“This is a very detailed snapshot of continental bird distribution,” said John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “Imagine scientists 250 years from now being able to compare these data with their own. Already, with more than a decade of data in hand, the GBBC has documented changes in late-winter bird distributions.”

To learn more about how to join the count, get bird ID tips, downloadable instructions, a how-to video, past results and more, go to www.birdcount.org. The count also includes a photo contest and a prize drawing for participants who enter at least one bird checklist online.

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