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Great Backyard Bird Count begins February 12

Small bird with yellow on top of its head on a partly-eaten yellow apple.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Stephanie Becker in the San Francisco Bay Area, California, gets a gold star for capturing this photo of a sparrow on February 1, 2021. She wrote: “In looking forward to the Great Backyard Bird Count, I’ve been observing birds in our backyard. This one is a golden-crowned sparrow enjoying a Golden Delicious apple.” Thanks, Stephanie!

The annual Great Backyard Bird Count, now in its 24th year, is set to take place February 12-15, 2021. During this popular community science event, people from all over the world head outdoors to count birds. Scientists use the data to track the health of bird populations.

With appropriate social distancing measures, watching birds can be a safe and pleasant activity to engage in during the Covid-19 global pandemic, and 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 four-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. It’s a great way to burn off some of those of extra calories from eating chocolate on Valentine’s Day. Learn more about how to participate here.

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A small bird, gray back and white front, with black smudge around eyes, sitting on a bare twig.
A dark-eyed junco seen on March 19, 2019, in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada. Image via Ryan Hodnett/ Wikimedia.

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. Chad Wilsey, chief scientist at the National Audubon Society, commented on the value of this event for both birds and people:

By participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count, community scientists contribute data that we use to protect birds and the places they need, today and tomorrow. In return, studies tell us that pausing to observe birds, their sounds and movements, improve human health. Participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count is a win-win for birds and people.

If you would like to join the 2021 Great Backyard Bird Count, please follow these three easy steps.

1. Familiarize yourself with the event website at the link here.

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 closeup 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 sending 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 submitted 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!

Poster for backyard bird count with a red-capped bird and text.
A poster for the Great Backyard Bird Count.

During the 2020 count, more than 250,000 checklists were submitted from over 100 countries, and a record 6,942 species were counted. That is a large proportion of the estimated 10,000 bird species that live on Earth today.

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, 2021 will be another record breaker.

A small black and white bird with wings spread threatens a bird crouching in snow.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Sudhir Sharma in Stormville, New York, captured this photo of birds on February 9, 2021. He wrote: “While it is snowing I get to see these small birds (chickadees) on my deck looking for food, and they get pretty aggressive if they come close to each other. Here is one such incident! :)” Thanks, Sudhir!

Bottom line: The annual Great Backyard Bird Count runs from February 12-15, 2021. This popular community science project helps scientists keep track of the health of bird populations. Participating is free and easy, so why not give it a try?

Read more: Great Backyard Bird Count

February 10, 2021

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