In a recent interview, writer and wildlife biologist Drew Lanham described an experience of observing cardinals, stating, “Watching a red bird as the sun [went] down on a day that still had a little bit of chill in it, and watching a bird sit in the last shafts of sunlight, watching the setting sun blaze through that bird – to me it gave me this appreciation again for the things that we often pass by.”2 As Lanham’s words suggest, it can sometimes be difficult to remember that magnificent creatures and plants are all around us, and to make space and take time to appreciate them. Luckily, the Great Backyard Bird Count is a perfect opportunity to get outside and to observe and connect with local wildlife.
The Great Backyard Bird Count, which takes place from February 17th to February 20th, was launched by Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society in 1998. Since then, it has expanded into a global effort, with over 350,000 people participating across the world in 2022. This community science effort is a way for people, no matter the level of experience, to volunteer and participate in the collection of data. And this data – the identifying, counting, and recording of bird sightings – is incredibly important to helping scientists better understand how birds are doing in the face of shifting landscapes, climate change, and other threats.
So, how does it work? While “backyard” is in the name, you can participate anywhere outside – a local park or greenspace, a favorite nature spot, or even just outside a home or workplace. Once you have picked your preferred spot, you will:
- Count birds anywhere you like for at least 15 minutes. Take note of what types of birds you see and how much time you spend observing.
- Make your best estimate of how many birds you saw of each species. For larger flocks even your best guess of a count can be valuable!
- Enter your list(s) and count online at www.birdcount.org. Make sure to enter a new checklist if it’s a new day, a new location, or a new time of the day (even at the same location).
For more detailed instructions and information on how to participate, go straight to the source: https://www.birdcount.org/tools/counting-instructions/
If you’re a beginning birder, not having the experience or learned familiarity with identifying birds can make participation seem intimidating. However, there are a lot of resources to make it accessible. Merlin Bird Id is available as an app or online, and there are checklists of birds commonly found in your area available through eBird. Moreover, it doesn’t have to be a solo count. Why not make it a collaborative group experience by participating with friends, family, or peers.
Hopefully, you are inspired to take the Great Backyard Bird Count as the perfect excuse to get outside and to lean into what Drew Lanham spoke of – to pay attention to what we may typically except as commonplace and find the beauty there. And contributing to a collective (and global) effort just adds to the depth to the experience! If participating isn’t possible for you this year, there are other awesome, year-round opportunities to participate in bird-related citizen science. Check out Project FeederWatch and iNaturalist to learn more.