A national February bird count hosted an exceptional visitor this year at Fox Island County Park.
The event, called the 21st annual Great Backyard Bird Count, is sponsored nationally by Cornell University, and takes place in backyards, parks, nature centers, hiking trails, school grounds, balconies and beaches across the country, according to experts at Cornell.
To join in the counting, bird watchers must only count the birds they see for at least 15 minutes the days of the count (this year, it was February 16, 17 and 18), then enter their checklists at the group’s website, www.birdcount.org.
The effort is mostly an attempt to allow scientists to gather data to help them gauge bird populations and migrations over the past 20 years.
Although bird watchers could do their counts anywhere, locally, Fox Island – located at 7324 Yohne Road — hosted bird watchers who wanted to spy as many birds as they could.
According to Natalie Haley, Environmental Educator with Allen County Parks, a “handful” of birders attended the event at the county park on the days it occurred, though anyone was allowed to attend and spot birds for the occasion.
She said letting folks come to Fox Island was a way to welcome bird watchers who might not have anywhere else to go – and make sure they had a safe and comfortable place to do it.
“My intention,” Haley said, “was to provide a comfortable indoor space (with food!) in order to view/learn about the birds as we counted them for the Backyard Bird Count. I just prefer to invite people to Fox Island to do the counting/learning with us, because it provides a warm, safe, handicap-accessible location in which to bird, and to learn more about the birds.”
Perhaps most remarkable about this year’s count, was a special bird that was spotted in the park. “Lucy,” a leucistic cardinal was spied during the event, according to Haley.
Because of her condition, Lucy appears to be white. But, her leucism is really just a condition that causes a partial loss of pigmentation; essentially a partial albinism.
Across the country, according to the national organization, about 167,000 checklists were made during the national 2018 count, with 6,148 species of birds seen, and more than 2 and a half million individual birds counted.
“The 2018 GBBC (Great Backyard Bird Count) is an important snapshot of bird occurrence,” stated Cornell University’s Marshall Iliff, a professor at that college’s Lab of Ornithology and leader of their eBird program. “Some stories to watch in North America this year are mountain birds moving into lowland valleys and east to the Great Plains; crossbills on the move across much of the continent; and many eastern birds responding to extremes as the winter temperatures have oscillated between unseasonably warm and exceptionally cold.”
For local birders, however, the spotting of Lucy during this year’s count was the definite highlight.
“We were very happy to spot an Eastern Towhee (bird) and the return of our leucistic cardinal, Lucy,” Haley said. “As her whiter coloration makes her very visible to predators, we worry about her never returning.”