Count Backyard Birds for Science (Updated)

Cardinal by Hazel Erikson
A male northern cardinal flies up to a backyard bird feeder. Photo by Hazel Erikson.

Beginning this Friday, February 18, bird lovers across the United States and Canada will count birds in their backyards and beyond during the 14th annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). Sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Audubon Society and Bird Studies Canada, the four-day event generates a valuable “real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the continent,” say the organizers.

Typically, GBBC participants turn in more than 10 million observations of more than 600 North American bird species. Highlights from last year’s event include records of more than 1.8 million American robins and the first-ever red-billed tropicbird tallied in the history of the count.

By participating in the GBBC, bird-watchers are helping scientists monitor and conserve birds. “When thousands of people all tell us what they’re seeing, we can detect changes in birds’ numbers and locations from year to year,” says Janis Dickinson, director of citizen science for the Cornell lab. Such observations “can serve as an early-warning system for worrisome declines in bird populations.”

Past counts, for example, revealed declines in the number of American crows since 2003, when West Nile virus spread across the United States. This year, tallying birds along the U.S. Gulf Coast may help scientists detect possible impacts from last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Birders of any age or skill level—from beginners to experts—are welcome to participate. All you need to do is spend a minimum of 15 minutes counting birds on any single day of the event. But you can spend as much time as you want, tallying birds not only in your backyard, but throughout your neighborhood or anywhere else you happen to be from February 18 to February 21.

Record the highest number of individuals of each species that you see together at any one time. Report your results at  The site also provides basic bird-ID tips and will show real-time results of the GBBC as they come in.

Make your yard more inviting to birds by turning it into an NWF Certified Wildlife Habitat.

Report your bird and other wildlife observations to NWF’s Wildlife Watch.

Explore the joys of backyard birding with children.

UPDATE (2/23): The 14th annual Great Backyard Bird Count is over. Make sure to submit your checklists by March 1. As of today, participating birders across the United States and Canada have turned in 73,497 checklists and observed 583 bird species. They’ve counted a total of 9,110,689 individual birds.

UPDATE (3/3): Statistics from the 14th annual GBBC: Total checklists submitted: 91,812. Total species observed: 595. Total individual birds counted: 11,362,767. An overview of the 2011 count is coming soon. Next GBBC: February 17 – 20, 2012.

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Published: February 16, 2011