Feb 18

Do you live in the US or Canada? Are you a budding birdwatcher or a fully-fledged birding expert? Perhaps you’re just someone who likes to get outdoors and take stock of the wildlife living right on your doorstep? You may even be someone who just fancies doing something a little different this weekend…

The Great Backyard Bird Count is for you! Taking place in the United States and Canada from Friday, February 18 through Monday, February 21, the Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual four-day event aimed at bird watchers of all ages.

Photo of American robin on winterberry fruits

A staggering 1.8 million American robins were recorded in last year’s GBBC.

Why count birds?

Scientists use the counts, along with observations from other citizen-science projects, such as the Christmas Bird Count, Project FeederWatch, and eBird, to help them build up a comprehensive picture of winter birds in the US and Canada. The data collected helps scientists and experts to answer many questions:

  • How will this winter’s snow and cold temperatures influence bird populations?
  • Where are winter finches and other “irruptive” species that appear in large numbers during some years but not others?
  • How will the timing of birds’ migrations compare with past years?
  • How are bird diseases, such as West Nile virus, affecting birds in different regions?
  • What kinds of differences in bird diversity are apparent in cities versus suburban, rural, and natural areas?
  • Are any birds undergoing worrisome declines that point to the need for conservation attention?

Photo of black-legged kittiwake adults and chick

Last year, birders in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, were treated to numerous rare sightings of a black-legged Kittiwake.

How do I get involved?

Anyone can help by tallying birds for at least 15 minutes on any day of the count. At www.birdcount.org, you can enter the highest number of each species seen at any one time and watch as the tallies grow across the continent.

Participants may also send in photographs of the birds they see. A selection of images are posted on the online photo gallery. 

For more information, including bird-ID tips, instructions and past results, visit the Great Backyard Bird Count website. The count also includes a photo contest and a prize draw for participants who enter their bird checklists online.

Photo of female tree swallow returning to nestbox

The number of states reporting tree swallows was down from 25 in 2009 to 20 in 2010, but the number of individuals reported increased nearly four-fold, from 22,431 to 84,585.

What might I see?

More than 600 bird species live in the US and Canada. Last year’s participants reported more than 1.8 million American robins, as well as rarities such as the first red-billed tropicbird in the count’s 13-year history.

The Canada goose was the second most commonly observed bird in last year’s count, while the snow goose, American Crow, and European starling all came in with about 500,000 individuals each.

Photo of Canada goose

With 748,356 reported sightings last year, the Canada goose was the second most seen bird.

Northern birds, often called “irruptives,” tend to show wild swings in their abundance from year to year. Species like red and white-winged crossbills, common and hoary redpolls, pine siskin, and evening and pine grosbeak may be common one year and entirely absent the next.

Last year, Texas, with its size, habitat diversity, and dedicated birders, was the species diversity hotspot, with 347 species counted.

The 2010 Great Backyard Bird Count had a record number of participants, with bird watchers across the continent and Hawaii submitting more then 97,200 checklists. 

Are you taking part in the Great Backyard Bird Count in the US or Canada? Let us know what you see!

Help spread the word by asking your friends and family to participate! Easy instructions can be found at www.birdcount.org.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audubon, with Canadian partner Bird Studies Canada.

Explore birds of the USA and Canada on ARKive

Helen Roddis, ARKive Species Text Author