Feb 15

Did you know that your very own backyard is a valuable scientific research environment? Well, from February 15-18th , it can be if you take part in this year’s Great Backyard Bird Count. A joint project of Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audubon, the Great Backyard Bird Count, or GBBC for short, invites everyone to participate in this landmark citizen science event to create a real-time snapshot of birds all over the world.

All you need is your backyard (or any green space really), 15 minutes (or longer if you like!) and either a piece of paper or your phone or tablet PC to capture your avian sightings. At the conclusion of your observations, log onto the GBBC website to record your sightings with people from around the globe doing the exact same thing.

Since many of us participating in the GBBC probably live in residential areas, the ARKive team has put together a helpful checklist of some of the more common and widespread bird species you might spot this weekend along with the defining features to look for:

Northern cardinal

Northern cardinal photoUnmistakable with its deep rouge coloring, the northern cardinal’s plump round shape is also a dead giveaway for the species. Add it’s distinctive circular, black face mask and you can check this one off the list.



Lesser black-backed gull

Lesser black-backed gull photo

Gulls are a class of birds with a considerably large distribution around the world. True to its namesake, the lesser black-backed gull can be identified by its dark coloration on its back and wings. If you’re still not sure, use binoculars to try to spot its red-tipped beak, a sure sign you’re observing this species.


Common pigeon

Common pigeon photoA frequent sight in cities around the world, the common pigeon can be identified by its speckled coloration and shimmery jeweled shading on its neck. Then again, if all else fails, the signature head-bobbing walk of the pigeon is distinctive enough.



Ruby-throated hummingbird

Ruby-throated hummingbird photoAlways a treat when spotted, the ruby-throated hummingbird is the most widespread of all hummingbird species. As its name suggests, keep an eye out for its brightly colored and iridescent red throat but be aware, only the males of the species possess this.



American robin

American robin photoArguably the most recognizable bird in the United States (and a welcomed harbinger of spring), the bright orange chest and long dark tail feathers identify the American robin from all others.



Canada goose

Canada goose photoAlthough it is often times heard before seen, the water-loving Canada goose’s dark, black neck contrasted by white cheek patches distinguishes it among all other goose species.




Mallard photoAnother avian fond of the aquatic lifestyle, the mallard’s striking metallic green head and white collar along with its bright orange legs are all positive identifiers of the species.



Barn owl

Barn owl photoDespite being so elusive, the barn owl is one of the most wide-ranging birds, occupying every continent except Antarctica. If you’re lucky enough to spot one head on, look for its characteristic heart-shaped face and general ghost-white coloration.



Mourning dove

Mourning dove photoIf the gentle cooing of this species doesn’t give it away, the mourning dove’s plump, gray chest, allover taupe color and delicate-looking black bill will.



We’d love to hear how your observations go this weekend so be sure to stop back in and share your findings in the comments below or on ARKive’s Facebook and Twitter feeds. Snap any pics during your observations? You can enter them into the Great Backyard Bird Count’s photo contest and also upload them to ARKive’s Flickr page. Tagged correctly, you may see your own photos appear on ARKive in the “Users’ photos” section of the species pages.

Happy bird watching this weekend!

Liana Vitali, ARKive Education & Outreach Manager, Wildscreen USA