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Counting birds combines science, fun and conservation

Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund staff and programs pay attention to many species, not just gorillas, because so many animals and plants around the world are threatened and may face extinction.

This weekend we enthusiastically celebrated Global Big Day with our partners in Rwanda, bringing 10 local secondary school students, our college interns, research assistants and staff on a bird-watching – and counting – excursion. Worldwide, this bird-counting day is organized by a group called “eBird,” a global citizen-science project managed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, with more than 100 million bird sightings contributed each year.

More than 30,000 volunteer bird watchers around the world participated in Global Big Day this year, to count as many birds as possible within a 24-hour period. The information gathered is then entered into official databases, which can help show which birds are doing well or not as well, in addition to trends and areas that may be of concern and need greater study or protection.

“By participating in the annual Global Big Day of counting birds, we as the Dian Fossey Fund not only showcase what our field sites and host countries have to offer in terms of biodiversity but also boost citizen-science efforts in the region,” says the Fossey Fund’s biodiversity researcher, Dr. Yntze van der Hoek.

And it turned out that the Fossey Fund teams found the most bird species of all those counting in Rwanda this year – 76 species – out of a total of about 200 species found in the whole country. Last year’s total count for Rwanda was only 75 species, so that shows the importance of having more people involved – the more we look, the more we find.

Here’s a link to the official bird count in Rwanda, as well as to other countries’ results.

U.N. report highlights extinction threats

Activities like Global Big Day are increasingly important given the current extinction crisis facing wildlife around the globe. The U.N. released a report today that revealed as many as 1 million species of plants and animals around the world are facing extinction, primarily as a result of human activities.

Big Global Day not only generates critical data on birds – which are important indicator species of habitat health that can be used in conservation – but also plays a critical role in raising awareness and getting people involved in conservation in general.

“Global Big Day was a day of science, but most especially a day to get people excited about nature and conservation,” Dr. van der Hoek says. “We went to a national park to count birds this day, but even if you don’t have access to such sites you can participate in these things. Just look around you, in your garden, on your balcony, what do you see? Everyone can do this, with all kinds of species.”

Ebird reports that the data collected through these efforts have been used in hundreds of conservation-related decisions, important scientific papers, student projects, and bird research worldwide.

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