If you are looking for reasons to keep birding this winter despite the cold weather, there are two great citizen science projects starting soon.
First, the second annual Rusty Blackbird Blitz is starting this weekend and will run through the middle of February. The Rusty Blackbird population has been in decline over the past few decades, for reasons that are not well understood. The goal of this survey is to learn more about their winter ecology and distribution. You can read some more about the goals of the blitz, and last year's results, at the Rusty Blackbird Working Group. Last year, the blitz got a good response from birders:
173 birders submitted 453 rusty blackbird surveys under the E-bird Blitz protocol. Of these individual reports, 249 sightings totaling 19,243 individuals were recorded. 204 surveys did not record any rusty blackbirds (but negative data are very valuable as well). Some of these reports were repeats from the same site. The number of unique sites is 215....If you know of any good spots to find Rusty Blackbirds in winter, this would be a good time to visit them and report the sightings through eBird. Surveys are likely to be more productive in the southeastern states that form the core of the Rusty Blackbird's range.
The number of rusty blackbird counts on E-bird greatly increased, probably largely due to the Blitz and the publicity surrounding the event. During the 7-16 February period, the number of counts increased from 70 to 262 between 2008 and 2009.
Second, this winter's Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is coming very soon, February 12-15. The GBBC aims to survey the continent's avifauna in a single weekend by asking birders to count birds in their yards and neighborhoods and report the sightings online. Last year birders submitted over 93,600 checklists. The count is open to birders of every skill level, from the beginners to the most advanced. All sightings are reviewed – first by eBird's sophisticated filters and then by a team of volunteer regional reviewers – so you need not worry about wildly inaccurate sightings corrupting the database.
Last year's GBBC documented the largest irruption of Pine Siskins in recent memory. Volunteers recorded 279,469 siskins on 18,528 checklists, which beat the previous high in 2005. White-winged Crossbills also set a record high last year, with 4,824 crossbills on 589 checklists.
The GBBC can spark some friendly competition since the website ranks states and localities by species, checklists, and number of birds. My area is not anywhere near the top. However, last year my town finished ninth in species and first in checklists among New Jersey localities. I hope we can keep it there again this year.