Get Outside for the Great Backyard Bird Count

It only takes 15 minutes out in nature.

Prothonotary Warbler Perched on Branch
Prothonotary warbler in South Carolina. Teresa Kopec / Getty Images

Get out your binoculars and head outdoors.

The 25th edition of the Great Backyard Bird Count takes place Feb. 18 through 21 as researchers ask citizen scientists around the globe to help them track changes to bird populations over time.

The count is a joint project from the National Audubon Society, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and Birds Canada.

To take part, people need to watch birds for 15 minutes or more at least once over the four-day period and count all the birds they see and hear during that time. The information can be entered on a computer or through an app such as eBird or the Merlin Bird ID app.

All the data from the count is entered into the year-round eBird database. Researchers around the world access the database to better understand birds. Just in 2021, 142 scientific papers used data from eBird, Becca Rodomsky-Bish of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology tells Treehugger.

“In 2021 during the pandemic, we received emails sharing that the birds brought them so much joy when they were spending a lot of time at home, alone,” Rodomsky-Bish says. “They appreciated being able to share ‘their birds’ and their enjoyment in a bigger cause.”

Although compiling information for researchers is a major purpose of the count, it’s not the only one, says Kathy Dale, community science team leader at the National Audubon Society. She points out it’s a great way for new birders to learn and practice their bird identification skills. It’s also a way to introduce kids to birds, as they take part with school and scout groups.

“In addition, it is a way for bird watchers all over the globe to share their love of birds together over one weekend and to share their reports and photos with everyone,” Dale tells Treehugger. “When the program began 25 years ago, we had a simple question, ‘If we build a bird database online, will people report what they see to us?’ The answer is a resounding yes!”

How to Take Part

Choose a spot—like a park or your backyard bird feeder—and sit by to see which birds you spot. Then enter info on each bird you see. The Merlin app is ideal for beginning birders because it asks three questions about the bird someone is watching in order to help them identify it.

The eBird app is for more experienced birders, asking them to enter information on every species that they see or hear and can identify.

“No experience is necessary to participate, but a willingness to learn to identify birds is key to reporting your bird observations,” says Kerry Wilcox of Birds Canada. “The program is set up so anyone can report their birds from anywhere on the globe—your yard, a feeder, a local park, in between your shopping errands—as long as you watch for at least 15 minutes.”

As birders enter sightings, they can watch a real-time map light up with bird observations from around the world and see photos of birds uploaded from observers.

Last year, an estimated 300,000 people from 190 countries participated in the count, submitting checklists reporting 6,436 species. That accounted for more than two-thirds of the bird species on earth, says Dale.

“We always hope that there will be more people participating each year and that we can get a snapshot of the world’s birds,” Dale says. “The influx of people new to bird watching has been a fascinating and exciting turn. We are happy to have so many join us for this fun!”

View Article Sources
  1. "Great Backyard Bird Count: How to Participate." National Audubon Society, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and Birds Canada.

  2. "Great Backyard Bird Count: 2021 Final Results." National Audubon Society, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and Birds Canada.