Amy K. Hooper
Courtesy Missy Mandel/Great Backyard Bird Count
Starting this Friday, take 15 minutes to count how many birds you see in your yard and around your home. You might see birds like this Black-capped Chickadee.
February 14 is more than Valentine’s Day in North America. It’s the first day of the Great Backyard Bird Count, an annual citizen-science project coordinated by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society with Bird Studies Canada.
You can show your love for wild birds visiting your yard by doing three things:
Creating a Cornell account (it’s easy-peasy!)
Spending only 15 minutes on one (or more) of the four count days, February 14 to 17, to count the number of birds in each species you see
Signing into your Cornell account and entering your data into the online database. You also can use an app on your mobile device; now that’s 21st century birding!
Maybe you think your bird identification skills are rusty or not advanced enough to participate in a citizen-science project like Great Backyard Bird Count — and that’s where you’re wrong. Citizen scientists aren’t experts, and the count organizers don’t expect you to be an expert birdwatcher who quickly IDs every visitor to your yard. If you want to brush up on the local birds that might stop by your yard over Presidents’ Day weekend, you can use some of the online resources below.
You’ll find a boatload of helpful details here, and also check out the how-to video:
If you’re doing the Great Backyard Bird Count with another birdwatcher or two, make sure that everyone knows the best ways to participate and reads the PDF.
If you want to do more than count the birds and enter your GBBC data, you can join the photo contest, submitting entries until March 1. The contest has six categories: overall, bird in its habitat, bird behavior, group shot of 2 or more birds, photo composition, and people enjoying birds.
Judges from Cornell, Audubon and Bird Studies Canada will evaluate entries on "use of light, depth of field, sharpness of focus, color balance, composition, framing, camera angle, originality, choice of subject matter, and the amount of patience (or luck!) required to get a shot.”
Those of us with point-and-shoot cameras can have a blast with the last category – people enjoying birds. Our photo subjects are much more likely to look at the camera when we need them to! The contest rules provide suggestions for that category, too:
Courtesy Daniel Tinoco/Great Backyard Bird Count
January was the start of the hummingbird breeding season in some regions of the United States. If you live on the West Coast, you might see Allen's Hummingbirds looking for mates during the Great Backyard Bird Count.
"Bird watchers could be photographed inside or outside, in the city, suburbs, or country. They might be at a nature center or retirement home, in unusual places, or photographed from unusual vantage points. Young children, seniors, or scout groups could be photographed marking tally sheets, talking to each other, looking up birds in a field guide, entering data on-line, filling feeders, making bird treats, mugging for the camera, or just having fun!”
What’s the point of counting your backyard birds and entering the info into Cornell’s database?
You’re contributing data to science.
The data from everyone’s winter surveys of bird populations helps scientists.
With your data, scientists can see which bird species are using food and shelter resources in which locations.
Because the winter surveys happen every year, scientists can see changes in the bird species’ behaviors and in the number of birds.
The Cornell Lab says "Scientists use these data to determine how birds are affected by habitat loss, pollution, and disease. They trace bird migration and document long-term changes in bird numbers continentwide. The results have been used to create management guidelines for birds, investigate the effects of acid rain and climate change, and advocate for the protection of declining species.”
This year’s GBBC is the 17th count. In the 2013 event, participants submitted 137,998 checklists and observed more than 4,200 species. That’s because birdwatchers participated all over the globe and on almost every continent. Will you join the count this year?