Save the date: The Great Backyard Bird Count

By Lisa Neff

Coming to a backyard near you: the 20th annual Great Backyard Bird Count.

The count takes place Feb. 17-20 in backyards, parks, nature centers, on hiking trails, school grounds, balconies, and beaches — anywhere people spot birds.

Birdwatchers tally the birds they see for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count, then enter their checklists at birdcount.org. All the data contribute to a snapshot of bird distribution and help scientists see changes.

“The very first GBBC was an experiment,” said Marshall Iliff, a leader of the eBird program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “We wanted to see if people would use the Internet to send us their bird sightings. Clearly the experiment was a success.”

The program collects bird observations globally every day of the year and serves as the online platform used by the GBBC.

That first year of the count, bird watchers submitted about 13,500 checklists from the United States and Canada. In 2016, an estimated 163,763 bird watchers from more than 100 countries submitted 162,052 bird checklists, reporting 5,689 species — more than half the known bird species in the world.

“The Great Backyard Bird Count is a great way to introduce people to participation in citizen science,” said Gary Langham, chief scientist and vice president at the National Audubon Society. “No other program allows volunteers to take an instantaneous snapshot of global bird populations that can contribute to our understanding of how a changing climate is affecting birds.”

An announcement for the count said varying weather conditions are producing  trends to watch.

For example, show many more waterfowl and kingfishers remaining further north than usual because they are finding open water. If that changes, these birds could move southward.

Also, birders are seeing higher than usual numbers of Bohemian waxwings in the Pacific Northwest and northern Rocky Mountains.

And, while some winter finches have been spotted in the East, such as red crossbills, common redpolls, evening grosbeaks and a few pine grosbeaks, there seem to be no big irruptions so far.

Join the count

To learn more about how to participate and what scientists have learned from the Great Backyard Bird Count over the past 20 years, visit birdcount.org.

The GBBC is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society with partner Bird Studies Canada.