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Great Backyard Bird Count Ends Monday Night

photo of Jim Tomko
Jim Tomko, president of the Audubon Society of Greater Cleveland, says the pileated woodpecker is thriving again in Northeast Ohio -- but so is one of its enemies, the house sparrow.

The 23rd Great Backyard Bird Count ends tonight, and one group of birders is raising concerns about some disturbing trends.

This past Saturday morning, a half-dozen people were at the Aurora Audubon Sanctuary to spot and count birds for the annual February count. Jim Tomko is president of the Audubon Society of Greater Cleveland. He says many species of songbirds are suffering because of climate change and because their winter habitats – in the South American rainforests – are being destroyed. So they don’t survive the winter, and don’t return north. Tomko says one solution is to create bird-friendly yards right here in Northeast Ohio.

“Start planting plants and trees that are friendly to birds [so] they have food or shelter, you put a water feature in, [and] try to use a minimum of pesticides and herbicides on your lawn.”

Tomko adds that backyard water features can be made usable in cold weather with the addition of a solar bird bath heater.

The annual bird count includes participants in more than 100 countries entering their findings online. The data is tracked by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society. A study last year found that North American has lost about 3 billion birds over the past five decades.

Tomko says some species are thriving, such as the pileated woodpecker.

“That’s the big Woody Woodpecker one. Because we’re getting the forests back, they’re coming back. And they’re adapting to a smaller fragment of forest. They used to need big timber. Before Europeans were here, it was almost all forest. Then we knocked all the trees down to make farms. And now the forests are coming back because the farmers are not doing their farming anymore.”

Tomko adds, however, that the house sparrow is also thriving. But it’s an invasive species which takes over the nests of bluebirds, chickadees and even pileated woodpeckers.

The Audubon Society of Greater Cleveland holds monthly events, which this spring will include a trip to LaDue Reservoir in March to watch duck migration, a woodcock walk in April, and a survey of breeding birds in June and July.

An interactive map of this year’s bird count results is here.

Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.