The Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual four-day event which seeks to create a “snapshot” of bird populations across the U.S. and Canada – and starting this year, world-wide. It is important because bird populations are dynamic; birds are constantly moving and migrating. No single scientist or group of scientists can document and follow it. It is only through the engagement of “citizen scientists” like us that enough data can be gathered. Typically the four-day count receives sightings from tens of thousands of people in the U.S. and Canada alone, reporting more than 600 bird species. (This year, the bird count is from Friday, February 15 through Monday, February 18).
Although I love watching birds and tend to take the time to learn the names of new birds that I see, I’ve never been on a formal bird walk or engaged in a bird count. Yesterday that changed. Early yesterday morning, I joined 8 other birders in a bird count at the Row River Nature Park. I’ve blogged about this park before; it is an excellent place to see birds. In the company of more experienced birders I saw even more birds than I would have imagined. With binoculars in hand, and friendly people guiding me, I watched as two different type of birds – water fowl – ate their catches, and learned to confidently identify at least two new birds (a brown creeper and a ring-necked duck). After I got home, I spent 20 minutes sitting quietly in my own backyard watching and counting birds.
With the integration of the internet, involvement in the bird count doesn’t need to end there. Our count at the Nature Park, and my count in my own backyard have now been added to the database. Anyone can explore these online, watch as counts come in from around the world, and explore counts from previous years (not to mention, browse through some beautiful bird photography from past photo contests).
It is easy to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count. Simply watch birds at any location (backyard, park, garden, wetland, anywhere) for at least 15 minutes and count the numbers for each species seen. You can either walk around, as we did in the Park, or sit still as I did at home. Then go online to www.BirdCount .org, create an account, and enter the birds that you saw and how/where you collected your data. You don’t have to be a bird “expert”? The website notes that they “realize that all birds are not identifiable and user abilities vary.” I chose to do my first solo count in my backyard because I am familiar with the birds there. I kept my bird ID book in hand and double-checked anything I wasn’t sure about. In the end, my count wasn’t that great. But I included it in the database and may do it again before the end of the count.
To learn more about how to join the count, to get bird IDing tips, and to download instructions visit www.BirdCount.org. This is a great opportunity to learn more about the nature in your own back yard and contribute to the local database. In 15 minutes, you, your kids and family, and your friends can be “citizen scientists.”
If you’ve participated in a bird count please leave a comment below. I’d love to know about your experiences and your counts.
If you’ve never been on a bird walk before, but have been interested, I encourage you to give it a try. The people on my bird walk were genuinely friendly, enjoyable people who were eager to both teach and learn.