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Great Backyard Bird Count Results Show Bird Trends Worldwide

Birders share data about winter birds, with more than 125 countries participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Amy K. Hooper

Cardinal Bird

Northern Cardinals were the most frequently reported bird in the 2014 Great Backyard Bird Count.

To the delight of organizers, backyard birdwatchers all over the planet participated in the 2014 Great Backyard Bird Count in mid-February. More than 125 countries appear in the checklists submitted by birders who identified and counted birds for this citizen-science project in its 17th year.

Organized by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society with Bird Studies Canada, the Great Backyard Bird Count helps scientists who use the volunteer-submitted counts of bird species to keep tabs on the health of bird populations. The counts contribute to a multi-year database that helps scientists see where the birds are using food and shelter resources as well as the changes in those locations and the numbers of birds.

So far, countries as far-ranging as Australia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Iceland and Argentina have shown up in this year’s checklists.

So far, countries as far-ranging as Australia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Iceland and Argentina have shown up in this year’s checklists. In 2013, participants from 110 countries contributed data from their bird counts during the event, which took place February 14 to 17, 2014. Outside of North America, birders in India have taken the far lead by submitting almost 3,000 checklists, with Australia, Mexico and Costa Rica in its wake.

The top 10 most frequently reported species – based on the number of Great Backyard Bird Count checklists reporting a species – definitely skew toward North American birds. They are:

1) Northern Cardinal
2) Dark-eyed Junco
3) Mourning Dove
4) Blue Jay
5) Downy Woodpecker
6) American Goldfinch
7) American Crow
8) Tufted Titmouse
9) House Finch
10) House Sparrow

Preliminary results also reveal the top 10 most numerous species, based on the number of individuals reported in all GBBC checklists. (You’ll see three species that made both lists to date.) They are:

Birders and nonbirders remain thrilled to see real-life Hedwigs (of Harry Potter fame).
1) Snow Goose
2) Canada Goose (not Canadian!)
3) European Starling
4) Mallard
5) Red-winged Blackbird
6) Ring-billed Gull
7) American Coot
8) Dark-Eyed Junco
9) American Crow
10) American Goldfinch

Although participants have until the end of February to submit checklists, GBBC organizers have begun to notice some trends. Three in particular stand out.

1) Reports of various finch species decreased in the 2014 checklists. Last year saw 10 finch species in "irruptions,” defined by Birder’s Dictionary  as "the periodic movement of numbers of birds into unusual ranges for a season.” Typically this happens when a species’ food source changes; in this case, seed crops. The affected species include White-winged Crossbill, Red Crossbill, Common Redpoll, Hoary Redpoll, Pine Grosbeak, Evening Grosbeak, Pine Siskin, Purple Finch, Red-breasted Nuthatch and Bohemian Waxwing.

2) The winter-long irruption (see above) of Snowy Owls has resulted in GBBC sightings in 25 states and 7 Canadian provinces. Birders and nonbirders remain thrilled to see real-life Hedwigs (of Harry Potter fame).

3) The colder-than-usual temperatures have frozen enough water to affect where birds are looking for food. Citing the polar vortex, organizers said waterfowl — such as White-winged Scoter and Long-tailed Duck —and grebes left the frozen Great Lakes and have chosen inland locations that typically do not host those birds.

More trends might emerge as volunteers continue to enter the data from their Great Backyard Bird Count checklists. You can keep tabs on the progress here!

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Posted: February 20, 2014, 5:00 p.m. PDT

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