By Molly Daly

PHILADELPHIA (CBS)  —  The Great Backyard Bird Count, an annual 4-day exercise in citizen science, kicks off today.

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Audubon Pennsylvania’s Steven Saffier says if you feed them, they will come.  He goes on to say, “The variety of birds that come to a feeder, especially if you have a suet feeder, and you have black oil sunflower, maybe you have peanuts at your feeder, it’s amazing the activity you will get. Birds allow us a close look at them in action in the wild. It’s almost like a fish tank, except they’re wild animals out there in nature. It’s one of the great things about bird feeding.”

You don’t just have to count feeder birds.

Saffier says, “If a Bald Eagle flies over your backyard, you can count that, so look up, as well as looking to the back yard.  You count the most number of any given species that you see at one time, so if you have ten Blue Jays for example, in your backyard, and that’s the most you’ve seen all day, that’s the number you’re going to put down on the checklist.””

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You can spend as little as 15 minutes counting the birds, and submitting your observations to the website.

Saffier goes on to say “your observations give scientists an important snapshot.  Counting birds really is a way to monitor environmental conditions. Bird populations change given the conditions of the environment. They really are indicators.”

Birding can also be a family activity, Saffier says, “I just think it’s a great resource for kids. It’s a great entry into learning about nature and the natural world. And then they can use their computer skills — because they’re much better at it than we are — they can enter the data for you.” But, says Saffier, “We want them out there, looking at birds, and really spending time away from the computer, and observing what they see in the backyard.”

For more information on the Great Backyard Bird Count, or an online guide to bird identification visit 

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