This weekend bird enthusiasts from around the world will become citizen scientists for a few days during the 19th annual Great Backyard Bird Count, which is happening this year February 12-15.
During this four-day event, which is organized by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the National Audubon Society and Bird Studies Canada, people will be headed outdoors to count their local birds in the name of science.
The goal of the count is to give scientists a better understanding of bird populations and distribution during the winter. The data collected can help them answer questions about how they’re being affected by factors like disease, development and climate change and how the timing of migrations may change over the years, in addition to offering insight about where conservation efforts need to be focused to protect species at risk.
The Great Backyard Bird Count first launched in 1998 and involvement has grown exponentially over the years. Last year more than 140,000 people from more than 100 countries participated, counting 18,726,079 individual birds from 5,090 different species. The total resulted in what organizers called “the most detailed four-day snapshot of global bird populations ever undertaken.”
This year organizers are encouraging more people to join. They believe the unusual weather patterns associated with El Niño may have a significant impact on birds being spotted.
“We’ve seen huge storms in western North America plus an unusually mild and snow-free winter in much of the Northeast,” said Audubon chief scientist Gary Langham. “And we’re seeing birds showing up in unusual places, such as a Great Kiskadee in South Dakota, as well as unseasonal records like Orchard Oriole and Chestnut-sided Warbler in the Northeast. We’re curious to see what other odd sightings might be recorded by volunteers during this year’s count.”
While organizers note odd sightings may be exciting, gathering data on common birds is just as important to see how they’re faring.
“Citizen-science projects like the Great Backyard Bird Count are springing up all over the world,” said Jon McCracken, national program manager at Bird Studies Canada. “More and more, scientists are relying on observations from the public to help them gather data at a scale they could never achieve before. The GBBC is a great way to get your feet wet: you can count birds for as little as 15 minutes on one day or watch for many hours each day at multiple locations–you choose your level of involvement.”
Participating is easy, and free, and is open to people of all skill levels. Experts are being encouraged to help fledge newcomers and there are plenty of tools for those starting out to help identify local birds.
For more info on how to participate in this year’s Great Backyard Bird Count, visit birdcount.org.