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Geese in Greenbelt Increase After Greenland Ice Melt

Greenbelters counted 468 birds belonging to a total of 25 species as part of this year's record-breaking Great Backyard Bird Count.

Some of the Canada geese that spend winters on Greenbelt Lake could be from a baby boom in Greenland due to ice melting. Marshall Iliff, a scientist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology at Ithaca, NY, told Patch that better habitat for breeding due to ice melt is boosting populations of Canada geese and other geese species, some of which are making their way to the northeastern United States. 

Iliff said this includes a pink-footed goose found in Howard County in February. He added that the warm winter in Maryland may be why Virginia’s warblers were able to spend this winter near Easton, Maryland, part of the push of western birds moving east.

Greenbelt was one of 267 communities throughout the state of Maryland that participated in the 2012 Great Backyard Bird Count, providing more data for Iliff and scientists throughout the world.

At least two Greenbelt bird watchers, this author included, counted 468 birds belonging to a total of 25 species, mostly from the Hillside Overpass to Greenbelt Lake, over the four-day count in February.

The highest number of species, 83, was recorded in Cambridge, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  Greenbelt’s neighbors—College Park, Bowie, and Lanham—reported 42, 46, and 21 species respectively. The deadline for reporting bird counts was March 5.

The greatest numbers in the Greenbelt count—308—came from the waterfowl at Greenbelt Lake, the most interesting ones being the diving ducks: pied-billed grebes and the winter-visiting hooded mergansers and ring-necked ducks. The waterfowl also included the usual Canada geese, mallards and ring-billed gulls. 

The “land birds” included a Cooper’s hawk, 7 chickadees, 1 tufted titmouse, 1 white-breasted nuthatch, 6 bluebirds, 30 robins, 15 white-throated sparrows, 9 juncos, 1 house finch, 17 red-bellied woodpeckers, and 16 cardinals.

The annual bird count is led by Cornell and Audubon, partnered with Bird Studies Canada and sponsored by Wild Birds Unlimited. This year participants counted more than 17 million birds of 618 species, in the United States and Canada, a record for the event.

Iliff is one of the co-leaders of e-Bird, a year-round online bird reporting program launched in 2002 by Cornell and the National Audubon Society.

He said that the use of e-Bird is increasing at the rate of 40 percent a year, giving scientists more data that they hope will help them spot trends over long periods of time and maybe help determine the causes. Scientists are still trying to learn how various bird species will react to warmer temperatures, Iliff said.

Iliff said he sees the backyard count as a way to recruit people to participate in e-Bird.  “If they only have to spend one weekend in their backyard counting birds, there’s less intimidation,” he said.

The counts help reveal the shifting ranges of birds due to global warming. 

The counts also help scientists spot declines in certain bird species, including common species such as the grackle, listed by Audubon's "Common Birds in Decline" press room—as one of the top 20 common birds in decline.   Greenbelters counted 14 grackles.

Donald Comis March 21, 2012 at 06:06 PM
Here's an update from the final report issued March 19, 2012: "Participation in the 15th Great Backyard Bird Count, February 17-20, shattered all previous records. Bird watchers in the U.S. and Canada submitted more than 104,000 checklists, reported 623 species, and observed more than 17.4 million birds."
Bailey Henneberg March 21, 2012 at 08:09 PM
What an example of what volunteers can accomplish. Thanks for the update Don.

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