Spend four days every February counting the birds in your backyard to help birds and participate in citizen science!
For many, February means flying babies with projectiles, rodents with meteorological prowess, and overpriced cardstock with well-meaning limericks. Those with binoculars, bird feeders, and a penchant for solving feather-based puzzles find February familiar for a different reason: the Great Backyard Bird Count. This annual event occurs across the globe, and everyone can easily participate!
What is the Great Backyard Bird Count?
The Great Backyard Bird Count was launched in 1998 by a partnership between the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. It was the first online citizen science project initiated in North America. Its goal is to collect data on wild birds while displaying results in astounding real-time for viewing by participants, scientists, and interested parties. A third partner joined in 2009, with Birds Canada jumping into the fray. This addition was intended to increase participation in Canada, and the growth of the count continued its international expansion. The project grew to global proportions in the past decade while fully integrating into eBird. It was then dubbed the world’s largest biodiversity-related citizen science project, though the Global Big Day also attempts to achieve this goal.
This count occurs for four days during the first few weeks of February, usually falling on the third weekend of the month. While participants need not participate in all four days, a single count of fifteen minutes on any count day qualifies the data for use in conservation efforts, and the participant will be included as a counter for the event. Even a single fifteen-minute count aids scientists, land managers, and conservationists in understanding global bird populations. These estimations are helpful, especially for North American migrants, before the wintering birds return to their northern breeding grounds.
How can I participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count?
Participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count is quite simple! First, you will want to pick the days and times you will go birding. But remember, time travel is not allowed for the survey. You cannot return to the past and count the Ivor-billed Woodpecker. Next, select a location! This location can be anywhere, including your yard and bird feeders. Do not take the ‘anywhere’ too literally. Birds are not found on Mars. Keep your counting earthbound. You can also go birding in multiple locations; just submit separate data at each new place and time. When you have arrived at your count location, do your best to identify all the birds you see or hear while birding. You can identify other animals and humans, but it is impossible to log those sightings on any of the platforms mentioned in this next section. While observing, or soon after, submit your sightings via one of the three tools operated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:
The eBird mobile app is a great way to track sightings while in the field, and the eBird website can be used for post-birding sessions when you want to avoid carrying your smartphone into the woods, wetlands, grasslands, etc. Unless your memory operates at the efficiency of a supercomputer, you will want to keep track of your sightings in a notebook for post-website submissions. If your experience with birding or bird identification is minimal, the Merlin Bird ID mobile app aids in identifying birds by sight and sound! Use some discernment, though, as computer algorithms could be incorrect when identifying birds from photos or recordings. (Especially if those photos look more like a Picasso.) Do not depend solely upon the Merlin app for your identifications, but use it to help you arrive at an identification conclusion. These resources are all free to use and help make the Great Backyard Bird Count more accessible and simplified for all birders.
Planting native plants attracts birds and enhances the use of bird feeders!
Count birds at your feeders for eBird and the Great Backyard Bird Count!
Embarking out to a birding hotspot might be what many people like to do during the Great Backyard Bird Count, but if that option is unavailable or less appealing to you, then create a private birding spot at home. (DoorDash probably does not deliver to most refuges or parks.) In the short term, creating a backyard buffet with a proper arrangement of bird feeders can jumpstart your birding hotspot. With additional time, creating a bird-friendly space will maximize the number of birds using your counting space.
Depending upon your location, specific feeders will attract a greater variety of birds during the count. In northern regions, finch feeders, platforms, and fly thru's will attract small and large finches and other common backyard birds like chickadees, cardinals, and jays. Suppose you live along the Gulf Coast, the desert southwest, or the Pacific coast. In that case, resident backyard birds will still visit seed feeders, but adding hummingbird feeders will attract wintering or resident hummers that stay in the region even during winter months. If robins, waxwings, bluebirds, or warblers winter near your home, feeding with mealworms, fruits, and berries might be the only surefire way to lure these birds to feeders. And, of course, suet is always a good option, regardless of where you might live, if you want to see woodpeckers, nuthatches, or chickadees. Providing food for birds creates the optimal attraction for a premium counting spot.
Providing food is a great way to attract birds for counting in your backyard, but it is only a tiny piece of the puzzle to maximize the number and diversity of birds in your home. One element is sure to attract the greatest variety of birds. Water. Not all birds will use feeders, but all birds require water in some form for survival. Using a birdbath or heated birdbath (in colder climates) is a way to attract less-common feeder birds. If you plan to use a birdbath, keep it full and clean, and keep it constant. Just imagine going without a shower or glass of water for multiple days! Having a set location with a steady supply of water creates the memory that birds will use to return again and again. Use water to maximize your bird count hotspot!
Some regions in North America are already seeing their nesting season begin. Owls, chickadees, bluebirds, and many other species have started the nesting process of courtship, building nests, finding nests, laying eggs, or already caring for chicks. If you reside in an area where the breeding season is in full swing or mere weeks away, adding a birdhouse or nesting box can add a final piece to ensuring birds are spending more time in your neighborhood.
Help Birds, Have Fun, and Show Off Your Math Skills
February might be known for love, groundhogs, and presidents for much of North America. But in the bird world, February is known for one of the largest citizen science events in the world. Participation might seem overwhelming to newbies. Birds Choice reminds you it can be as simple as buying bird food, filling your bird feeders, sitting back on your couch, and watching some “Bird TV.” Oh, and helping your favorite feathered stars by counting them and submitting your results on eBird.