The annual Great Backyard Bird Count, now in its 23rd year, is set to take place February 14–17, 2020. During this popular citizen science event, people from all over the world head outdoors to count birds and the data are used by scientists to track the health of bird populations.
Participating in the bird count is free and easy. You just have to commit to counting birds for as little as 15 minutes (or as long as you wish) on one or more days of the 4-day event and report your sightings online at the event’s website. Anyone can take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, from beginning bird watchers to experts, and you can do the count from your backyard or anywhere in the world.
The Great Backyard Bird Count is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Audubon Society, and Birds Canada, and support is provided in part by founding sponsor Wild Birds Unlimited. Steven Price, president of Birds Canada, offered this praise for the event:
At times, we can feel like there’s little we can do on environmental issues. The Great Backyard Bird Count gives all bird enthusiasts a chance to help, as well as a great opportunity to include family and friends of all skill levels in a common conservation effort. Go out, have fun, and take heart that you are helping birds and nature!
To join the 2020 Great Backyard Bird Count, just follow these three easy steps.
1. First, register with your name on the event’s website at the link here. Registration is free. This website has a ton of useful information about birds and the upcoming bird count.
2. Spend some time counting birds on the weekend of the event at the location of your choice, such as your backyard or a local park. The minimum amount of time required is 15 minutes, but you can count for longer if you wish. During your count, simply record the start and end time, location, and number and types of birds that you see. You can perform counts in multiple locations too. Just be sure to submit separate checklists for each location.
Not to worry if you can’t identify the birds you see at first. Just take good notes about their prominent features such as their size, shape, color, and unusual markings, or you can try to snap a close-up picture. Then, you can use a bird guide to look them up later. All About Birds and What Bird are two good online bird identification guides that are free and easy to use. Additionally, the free Merlin Bird ID App can be downloaded to your smartphone and used offline. Merlin will ask you five simple questions about the bird you are trying to identify and suggest matches for you. You can even upload a picture to Merlin and let the app try to identify it.
3. The last step involves uploading your data to the event’s website. This step usually only takes a few minutes to complete. While you’re visiting the website, check out the live map that displays dots in the various locations where people have uploaded a checklist. It’s fun to watch the data pour in from all over the world.
As an added bonus, there is a photo contest for those who want to submit pictures of the birds that they see during the event. You can even submit photos of yourself bird watching. If you do shoot some good photos, please share them with us at EarthSky Community Photos. We love birding photos!
During the 2019 count, more than 210,000 checklists were submitted by bird watchers from over 100 countries and a record 6,456 species were counted. That is more than half of all the known bird species around the world.
Use the hashtag #GBBC to follow Great Backyard Bird Count conversations on Twitter and Facebook.
The first annual Great Backyard Bird Count was held in 1998, and the event has continued to grow year after year. Hopefully, 2020 will be another record breaker.
Bottom line: The annual Great Backyard Bird Count runs from February 14 to 17, 2020. This popular citizen science project helps scientists keep track of the health of bird populations. Participating is free and easy, so why not give it a try?
Deanna Conners is an Environmental Scientist who holds a Ph.D. in Toxicology and an M.S. in Environmental Studies. Her interest in toxicology stems from having grown up near the Love Canal Superfund Site in New York. Her current work is to provide high-quality scientific information to the public and decision-makers and to help build cross-disciplinary partnerships that help solve environmental problems. She writes about Earth science and nature conservation for EarthSky.