You don't have to leave home to teach your kids a lesson in nature appreciation. The Great Backyard Bird Count, which takes place Presidents Day weekend (Feb. 16-19), invites everyone to count the birds in their area.
The count, sponsored by the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is meant to help scientists and birdwatchers across North America keep track of habitation and migration trends for more than 600 species of birds. All you have to do is download a form from www.birdsource.org/gbbc and submit it back to the site when you're done. You can get information there on what birds you can expect to see in your area and how to tell similar birds apart.
"It's a really effective way for people to spend some time learning about the world around them," says Steve Sullivan, scientific collections manager at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago. Sullivan has done a few bird counts with kids in the past. "Kids can definitely tell the difference between a junco and a sparrow and a starling by the time they're done," he says.
To encourage involvement in the count, Notebaert is running a special exhibit. Between 11 a.m.-3 p.m. the weekend of or the weekend before the count, museum staff will be available to guide people through the count. "We'll talk about the right way to count the birds," says Celeste Troon, manager of the living vertebrate collections at Notebaert. "If you see one robin here and one there and three there, you should use the highest number rather than adding them all up."
Sullivan says the count usually ends up going on much longer than 15 minutes as kids get more interested and ask more questions. "Just spending that 15 minutes can influence a kid for a lifetime," Sullivan says. For more information about the Great Backyard Bird Count, visit the Notebaert Museum's Web site at www.chias.org or the National Audubon Society's Web site at www.audubon.org.