Blue jay

Blue jays are one of the focuses of this year's N.H. Audubon Backyard Bird Survey. Last year blue jays were at record low numbers on the 2019 survey but they are expected back this year. (WIKIPEDIA PHOTO)

CONCORD — You can help N.H. Audubon track the state’s bird populations by taking part in their annual Backyard Winter Bird Survey on Saturday, Feb. 8, and Sunday, Feb. 9.

Biologists need assistance from citizens all over the Granite State to get a clear picture of what is happening with our winter birds.

It took the arrival of snow this winter to bring birds into our backyards, after ignoring feeders in the fall thanks to a good natural food crop. The cold November chased some late lingering birds away but it wasn’t until snowfall that many people started reporting their birds were back. N.H. Audubon biologists are anxious to see what this year’s numbers show and they need your help to get data from throughout the state.

“With the recent report on bird declines, it’s critical to track what’s happening to our common backyard birds,” said Dr. Pam Hunt, senior biologist with N.H. Audubon. Last year blue jays were at record low numbers on the 2019 survey but they are expected back this year. “Acorns are a staple in blue jay diets, so much so that these birds are actually migratory,” according to Hunt. Last winter there were hardly any acorns so the blue jays left the state. This fall the acorn crop was good and blue jay numbers are expected to rebound.

N.H. Audubon is also closely watching black-capped chickadees. This popular backyard bird was at a record low in 2018 and bounced back a little in 2019 but are still of concern. “We want to keep any eye on them,” said Hunt. Unlike the blue jays, there’s no obvious reason for their decline, but 30-plus years of data from the survey shows a lot of variation in their population.

The return of evening grosbeaks was a welcome sight last winter. They reached their highest total on the survey since 2008. This beautiful bird used to be quite common in the late 1980s and early 1990s but they have been largely absent from feeders for the last decade. The 2019 survey also had the second highest total of barred owls. The story of their increase is linked all the way back to the bumper mast crop in the fall of 2017. “The survey shows us how natural phenomenon influence the ups and downs of bird populations,” said Rebecca Suomala, survey coordinator. The 2019 Survey Summary (available online) explains the connection.

Anyone can participate in the Backyard Winter Bird Survey by counting the birds in their own backyard on the survey weekend and reporting online or sending the results on a special reporting form to N.H. Audubon. To receive a copy of the reporting form and complete instructions, e-mail your name and address to bwbs@nhaudubon.org or call (603) 224-9909. Forms are also available online and at N.H. Audubon centers in Auburn and Concord. Find more information about the survey at nhaudubon.org under "Get Outside-Birding."

Each year about 1,500 observers across the state count the birds coming to their feeders. Reports of a lack of birds are just as valuable as reports of many birds.

“If everyone reported only when they have a lot of birds, we wouldn’t be able to see the declines,” said Suomala. “The most important thing is to participate each year regardless of how many or how few birds you have.”

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