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Birds of a Feather Counted Together at VINS

  • A downy woodpecker and a chickadee share space on a peanut butter and graham cracker feeder at VINS in Quechee, Vt. Monday, February 17, 2014. This was the first year a downy woodpecker was sighted during the count at VINS, though chickadees are one of the most common birds seen at feeders.<br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>

    A downy woodpecker and a chickadee share space on a peanut butter and graham cracker feeder at VINS in Quechee, Vt. Monday, February 17, 2014. This was the first year a downy woodpecker was sighted during the count at VINS, though chickadees are one of the most common birds seen at feeders.
    Valley News - James M. Patterson
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Eileen Lannon of Hamilton, Mass., picks up a pair of binoculars while spotting birds at VINS during the Great Backyard Bird Count in Quechee, Vt. Monday, February 17, 2014. Visitors to the nature center were encouraged to contribute to the count during the VINS programming, and at their home feeders. <br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>

    Eileen Lannon of Hamilton, Mass., picks up a pair of binoculars while spotting birds at VINS during the Great Backyard Bird Count in Quechee, Vt. Monday, February 17, 2014. Visitors to the nature center were encouraged to contribute to the count during the VINS programming, and at their home feeders.
    Valley News - James M. Patterson
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • During a program to kick off the Great Backyard Bird Count, VINS educator Chris Collier has visitors, from left, Amanda Lannon, 9, Brady Lannon, 6, both of Hamilton, Mass., and Rowan Irvine, 6, of White River Junction, cup their ears to imitate the facial feather patterns of a Great Horned Owl in Quechee, Vt. Monday, February 17, 2014. The feather pattern helps to trap sound and enhance hearing. <br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>

    During a program to kick off the Great Backyard Bird Count, VINS educator Chris Collier has visitors, from left, Amanda Lannon, 9, Brady Lannon, 6, both of Hamilton, Mass., and Rowan Irvine, 6, of White River Junction, cup their ears to imitate the facial feather patterns of a Great Horned Owl in Quechee, Vt. Monday, February 17, 2014. The feather pattern helps to trap sound and enhance hearing.
    Valley News - James M. Patterson
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • The Huggler family, from left, Pamela, Erich, Alexander, 11, and Emma, 9, of Englewood Cliffs, N.J., look for winter resident birds at the feeders outside a classroom at the Vermont Institute of Natural (VINS) in Quechee, Vt. Monday, February 17, 2014. VINS kept a count of birds at their feeders to contribute to the Cornell Lab of Ornothology and the National Audubon Society's Great Backyard Bird Count, a citizen science initiative that collects data on birds worldwide over four days in February.<br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>

    The Huggler family, from left, Pamela, Erich, Alexander, 11, and Emma, 9, of Englewood Cliffs, N.J., look for winter resident birds at the feeders outside a classroom at the Vermont Institute of Natural (VINS) in Quechee, Vt. Monday, February 17, 2014. VINS kept a count of birds at their feeders to contribute to the Cornell Lab of Ornothology and the National Audubon Society's Great Backyard Bird Count, a citizen science initiative that collects data on birds worldwide over four days in February.
    Valley News - James M. Patterson
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Linda Conrad, VINS guest services manager, wears earrings depicting female cardinals while photographing birds during the Great Backyard Bird Count in Quechee, Vt. Monday, February 17, 2014. Cardinals are common at winter bird feeders, but none were sighted at VINS during their count.<br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>

    Linda Conrad, VINS guest services manager, wears earrings depicting female cardinals while photographing birds during the Great Backyard Bird Count in Quechee, Vt. Monday, February 17, 2014. Cardinals are common at winter bird feeders, but none were sighted at VINS during their count.
    Valley News - James M. Patterson
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Chris Collier, VINS operations director, reads a list of birds commonly seen at the Quechee nature center to visitors Monday, February 17, 2014. New sightings during this year's count include robins, a hairy woodpecker and downy woodpecker and a common raven.<br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>

    Chris Collier, VINS operations director, reads a list of birds commonly seen at the Quechee nature center to visitors Monday, February 17, 2014. New sightings during this year's count include robins, a hairy woodpecker and downy woodpecker and a common raven.
    Valley News - James M. Patterson
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • A kestrel is held by a VINS employee during programming for the Great Backyard Bird Count in Quechee, Vt. Monday, February 17, 2014. Vermont and New Hampshire are at the northern edge of the Kestrel's winter range. <br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>

    A kestrel is held by a VINS employee during programming for the Great Backyard Bird Count in Quechee, Vt. Monday, February 17, 2014. Vermont and New Hampshire are at the northern edge of the Kestrel's winter range.
    Valley News - James M. Patterson
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • A downy woodpecker and a chickadee share space on a peanut butter and graham cracker feeder at VINS in Quechee, Vt. Monday, February 17, 2014. This was the first year a downy woodpecker was sighted during the count at VINS, though chickadees are one of the most common birds seen at feeders.<br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>
  • Eileen Lannon of Hamilton, Mass., picks up a pair of binoculars while spotting birds at VINS during the Great Backyard Bird Count in Quechee, Vt. Monday, February 17, 2014. Visitors to the nature center were encouraged to contribute to the count during the VINS programming, and at their home feeders. <br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>
  • During a program to kick off the Great Backyard Bird Count, VINS educator Chris Collier has visitors, from left, Amanda Lannon, 9, Brady Lannon, 6, both of Hamilton, Mass., and Rowan Irvine, 6, of White River Junction, cup their ears to imitate the facial feather patterns of a Great Horned Owl in Quechee, Vt. Monday, February 17, 2014. The feather pattern helps to trap sound and enhance hearing. <br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>
  • The Huggler family, from left, Pamela, Erich, Alexander, 11, and Emma, 9, of Englewood Cliffs, N.J., look for winter resident birds at the feeders outside a classroom at the Vermont Institute of Natural (VINS) in Quechee, Vt. Monday, February 17, 2014. VINS kept a count of birds at their feeders to contribute to the Cornell Lab of Ornothology and the National Audubon Society's Great Backyard Bird Count, a citizen science initiative that collects data on birds worldwide over four days in February.<br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>
  • Linda Conrad, VINS guest services manager, wears earrings depicting female cardinals while photographing birds during the Great Backyard Bird Count in Quechee, Vt. Monday, February 17, 2014. Cardinals are common at winter bird feeders, but none were sighted at VINS during their count.<br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>
  • Chris Collier, VINS operations director, reads a list of birds commonly seen at the Quechee nature center to visitors Monday, February 17, 2014. New sightings during this year's count include robins, a hairy woodpecker and downy woodpecker and a common raven.<br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>
  • A kestrel is held by a VINS employee during programming for the Great Backyard Bird Count in Quechee, Vt. Monday, February 17, 2014. Vermont and New Hampshire are at the northern edge of the Kestrel's winter range. <br/>Valley News - James M. Patterson<br/>

Quechee — Birds and humans alike last week took a keen interest in the suet and seed-filled feeders on the woodsy grounds of Vermont Institute of Natural Science. The people had a mission: record as many species as possible for the Great Backyard Bird Count. The birds? They were just plain hungry.

Started by Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, the annual four-day event helps scientists study bird populations across the globe.

On Sunday and Monday, VINS staff bearing binoculars and bird books encouraged visitors to take part.

It’s an easy way to contribute to science, said Chris Collier, operations director. Participants can spend as little as 15 minutes counting birds, and “you don’t have to have a Ph.D.”

Carolyn Conte and her family cross-country skied on Sunday, but Monday found them inside, peering out through compact binoculars at the snowy landscape.

They love watching birds at their backyard feeder, said Conte, of Lexington, Mass., who had read about the bird count but never taken part. “They may have a convert.”

Last year, bird-watchers from 111 countries contributed to the count, which relies on “citizen scientists.” Although the bulk of the 2014 reports came from the United States, a map on the Great Backyard Bird Count website shows concentrations in Canada, Cuba, Portugal, India and Australia, and across Central America and the United Kingdom.

The results were still rolling in, but by Thursday more than 16 million birds, representing 3,996 species, had been counted.

The information is combined with the results of other citizen science projects, such as the Christmas Bird Count and Project FeederWatch, providing scientists with copious data they could never acquire on their own.

Bird populations are “constantly in flux,” according to the website. “No single scientist or team of scientists could hope to document and understand the complex distribution and movements of so many species in such a short time.”

The bird count can be done anywhere — in wooded areas or big cities, backyards or public parks. But in Quechee, the recent snowfall meant Monday was a good day to focus on feeders.

Heavy snow knocks seeds from the trees, making wild food less accessible, said Linda Conrad, guest services manager. Before and after snowstorms, “birds really get into panic mode,” hitting feeders hard.

Throughout the count, people wandered in and out of the VINS classroom, perusing bird guides and counting the winged visitors through three large windows. A table filled with popcorn, peanut butter and rice cakes offered children a chance to make avian treats.

As visitors scoped out the back woods, Collier recorded their sightings.

Visitors and VINS staff saw 10 species on Sunday and eight species on Monday, including hairy and downy woodpeckers, white-breasted and red-breasted nuthatches, American goldfinches, and a raven.

It’s been about four years since VINS started hosting the bird count, Collier said. The samples are too small to draw conclusions about local avian populations, but they do contribute “to the greater whole of science.”

Throughout the day, staff members shared tidbits about the behavior of common birds. When it comes to eating, “chickadees typically grab and go,” while goldfinches stay and graze, Collier told Marty Irvine, of White River Junction.

Most of the people he met over the course of the two days were new to birding, Collier said. But several said the experience would prompt them to pay closer attention to birds in their backyards.

“Now I will enjoy them more because I’ve learned a little bit more about them,” said Irvine, who had traveled to VINS to enroll her 6-year-old son, Rowan, in summer camp and ended up taking part in the count. “I plan to put more food out so they will keep coming out. I feel a little bit more compassion for them.”

By the time they left, she and Rowan had decided to do some bird-watching at home that afternoon and submit their findings to the bird count.

“This will be something we can do outside, instead of building a snow fort again,” Irvine said, laughing. “We’ve been doing that all weekend.”

Aimee Caruso can be reached at acaruso@vnews.com or 603-727-3210.