Monday, April 6

For the Bird Watchers

From Wired Science:
With an old computer and 30 dollars worth of off-the-shelf components, you can gear up with cutting edge avian monitoring technology and help save the birds.

For years, birdwatchers counted by sight during the daytime. The night — when most migratory birds travel — was literally hidden to them. But that's changing. Anyone can attach a microphone to a computer running birdcall-identifying software and track birds passing overhead in the darkness.

"You wouldn't be able to understand what's happening at night without this technology," said Andrew Farnsworth, a Cornell University ornithologist. "And when it comes to recording the things I work on, that's something anyone can do."

Scientists already depend on citizen birdwatchers for data that provides the foundation for estimates of species health and behavior. Their spare-time jottings are collated in efforts like the Great Backyard Bird Count, eBird, North American Bird Phenology Program and Project Feederwatch. With hundreds of species threatened by habitat loss, climate change and pollution, that data is now invaluable for conservation efforts.

But because many species migrate at night and are hard to find during the daytime, birders can miss them, said Farnsworth, or are forced to use proxy measures: If a bird seen yesterday isn't seen today, then it probably left. "It's not that the proxy methods are bad," he said, "but we're finding this method of nocturnal tracking can be incredibly powerful." Read more...

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