By Taylor Welsh. February 16, 2018. BLOWING ROCK, NC — Hand over the binoculars, gramps.
For many, birdwatching has been reserved for the elderly, but the relatively tranquil activity serves a bigger purpose than entertaining the old folks. It’s also how local birds can be saved from extinction and starvation, as well as identifying those suffering from loss of habitat.
Photographic images by Will Smith
From Feb. 16-19, the High Country Audubon Society is asking the local communities to take some time out of their day and play in their backyards during the Great Backyard Bird Count event. While doing so, count the amount of birds you see and, if possible, identify the species. However, people do not have to be expert birders to participate and help save birds.
And anyone can help.
The High Country Audubon Society covers Avery, Ash, Alleghany, Watauga and Wilkes counties and is a society dedicated to sustaining indigenous mountain birds’ habitats by engaging in conservation, education and research.
“This is the best and most accurate way we get our statistics about the indigenous birds in western North Carolina,” High Country Audubon Society President Debbie Shetterly said. “All of the information we get from the residents of towns like Blowing Rock is vital to helping these birds—some of which are the most beautiful species in the world, but are in serious peril.”
However, the bird that has suffered the largest decline is the Eastern Meadowlark, a rare species which Shetterly said has declined by over 80 percent in the past couple of years. These birds have a bright yellow stomach and brown and white feathers on the wings.
“During Christmas, I saw an Eastern Meadowlark, so we know they are still around. It is just getting extremely more difficult to spot them,” Shetterly said. “But this is why we have these [Great Backyard Bird Count] events. With the community’s help, we can track how many of these birds are in a certain area and go plant native shrubs, trees and seeds to help revitalize these birds and give them cover and protection.”
Shetterly added that anyone can join in on the fun of the Great Backyard Bird Count event, and in fact, she has seen families go outside and turn it into a fun game, similar to the generational craze “Pokémon” and the notion of having to “catch them all.”
There are common, rare and ultra rare birds that are indigenous to the Blowing Rock and Boone areas that can be used in a way to entertain and motivate children to count as many as possible.
For starters, some of the common species of birds include: Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmouse, Northern Cardinals, White-breasted Nuthatch, Junco, American Gold Finch, Song Sparrows, Field Sparrows, American Crows and Turkey Vultures.
Then there are much more rare species such as the Black Vulture, Peregrine Flacon, Downy Woodpecker and the Hairy Woodpecker.
But possibly the most rare species of bird found in Watauga County is the elusive Pileated Woodpecker, what the famous Woody the Woodpecker cartoon is inspired after.
Calculate how many birds were seen, and if possible the species—which can be researched via online search engines—and report them back to the Audubon North Carolina Society by Feb. 19.
“It only takes 15 minutes to make a long-term impact on birds through this community science project. Participation is free and easy—simply go outside to your backyard or the nearest park, write down any birds you see for 15 minutes or longer and report your sightings online,” Shetterly said.
To report the findings, visit birdcout.org, which Shetterly said is a user-friendly website that is easy regardless of birding expertise levels.
For more information about the Great Backyard Bird Count event or the local High Country Audubon Society, visit highcountryaudubon.org.