Photo by Gary Bendig

Be a Scientist for the Day: Take Part in the Great Backyard Bird Count

Be a Scientist for the Day: Take Part in the Great Backyard Bird Count

Feb 16, 2017|BirdingNews| by cjinks

This Friday, February 17th, marks the start of the 2017 Great Backyard Bird Count, when bird-watchers all over the world can contribute to the studies of these animals during a four-day, worldwide event.

The Great Backyard Bird Count began in 1998 as a joint project by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. Over the course of one weekend, February 17-20, the GBBC welcomes bird-watchers from all background levels, ages, and locations to tally the bird species they see while participating. Thanks to this event, scientists are able to gather information from all over the world in real time, which contributes to understanding the complex distribution and movements of a large variety of bird species. 


Why You Should Get Involved

Scientists can’t be everywhere, but through the GBBC they can have watchful eyes everywhere. The data collected from this event helps reveal the trends within bird populations, whether they are varying from year to year, changing depending on rural or urban locations, or being affected by disease. If researchers understand the trends, they are closer to preventing the negative ones and optimizing the positive ones.

According to the president and CEO of the National Audubon Society, David Yarnold, the Great Backyard Bird Count helped track and recognize the trends of both the Snowy Owl and the American Crow. He also states that after similar bird-watching events they were able to gather the effects of a warmer winter on Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes'’ late migrations in the north as well as deviations in migration patterns from various other bird species. View Yarnold’s full article here .

The time it takes to participate in this event can be as little as 15 minutes, to as long as you care to watch. The steps to follow are simple, but the impact is monumental.


How to Get Involved

To take part you must first make an account with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. If you have recently participated in any of the following projects then use your existing login.

You'll need an account unless you've registered with one of these projects:

  • Bird Academy
  • BirdSleuth
  • Celebrate Urban Birds
  • eBird
  • Great Backyard Bird Count
  • Macaulay Library
  • NestWatch
  • Project FeederWatch
  • YardMap / Habitat Network

Count birds in as many places and on as many occasions as you wish. Make sure to submit separate checklists for every location, or for the same location if it is a different time of day.

TIP:  To get the most accurate recording, give your best estimate for the number of each species. For example, if you see one bird, then four of that same species together, then two, then three, you would input four for that species, rather than 10. This is because it is likely those four birds are coming back to the same location at different times and in different combinations.

Enter your results on the GBBC website by clicking “Submit Observations” on the home page.

You may also submit your recordings using the eBird Mobile app. This is especially useful if you happen to see birds while on the go!


Some Other Useful Info

  • Audubon Bird Guide App – available for Apple and Android as well as tablets, on the Amazon App Store, Google Play, and the Apple App Store. It features  821 North American species with sounds, images, and range maps. You will have the ability to interact with other birders when they report their sightings on eBird and NatureShare through the app.
  • eBird Mobile App- allows you to submit your GBBC records from anywhere. Anything you submit within the GBBC count time will be recorded as data for the event.
  • Merlin Bird ID App – allows you to identify a bird by answering five simple questions ­­– where was it found, what time of day, etc. – or by uploading a photo of the bird. The app gives you the most likely options for the species you have sighted.
  • Photo Contest – during the GBBC, the homepage of the website will be featuring a live photo contest for the event. Submit up to ten images in each category including the species and the location you took the photo.
  • GBBC Activities will be taking place throughout the weekend if you are looking to connect with fellow birders. The website lists event locations and a short description (some require registration).

Photo by Bill Williams


You now have everything you need to be a citizen scientist for the weekend! Enjoy the Great Backyard Bird Count – the birds thank you for your contribution!