This year’s Great Backyard Bird Count takes place February 12 to 15, 2016. Birders from all walks of life spend at least 15 minutes counting the different species of birds at their location, usually their backyard. Kids can learn which species of birds live in their backyard in the winter, and what the birds like to eat.
Anyone in the world can join the Great Backyard Bird Count organized by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, The National Audubon Society, and Bird Studies Canada. The information gathered by tens of thousands of volunteers helps track the health of bird populations at a scale that would not otherwise be possible. Last year, more than 34.5 million birds and 3,610 species were recorded—nearly one-third of the world’s total bird species documented in just four days.
Why Count Birds?
- How will the weather and climate change influence bird populations?
- Some birds, such as winter finches, appear in large numbers during some years but not others. Where are these species from year to year, and what can we learn from these patterns?
- How will the timing of birds’ migrations compare with past years?
- How are bird diseases, such as West Nile virus, affecting birds in different regions?
- What kinds of differences in bird diversity are apparent in cities versus suburban, rural, and natural areas?
Kids Can Help Identify Birds
Because I’ve always encouraged my kids to be interested in the natural world, we’re always identifying birds year-round. Some birds like cardinals, chickadees, robins, and blue jays are easy for kids to identify. My kids tease me about watching for Red Tails in our neighborhood.
Preschoolers and younger elementary students can help identify birds during the 15 minute time frame. When working with younger kids, I would suggest having a visual one-page identification page for the kids to make tally marks on. Older ones can help record the data on the optional data sheet before an adult enters the bird count online.
Check online for local Great Backyard Bird Count events in your area. Many Audubon Centers, wildlife refuges, and environmental education centers will be holding classes and family events for the Great Backyard Bird Count from February 14th to 17th.
Extend the Great Backyard Bird Count weekend by starting a nature journal. Kids can record the birds they say and make notes about the habitat, food sources, and any other observations they made during the Count. Set up a feeder with different types of bird food to see which types of birds come to the backyard and what food they like to eat. When spring comes, make changes to your yard to encourage more birds to visit like setting up potential nesting sites and food sources.
Encourage Birds in Your Backyard
During the winter, birds have fewer foods available to eat. Setting up a bird feeder or 2 in your backyard gives them a regular food supply. It also makes it easier to do the Great Backyard Bird Count since you’ll have regular visitors to the feeders.
Before you start the Great Backyard Bird Count, set up one or 2 of these easy bird feeders with your kids about 2 weeks before. Monitor the bird feeders to keep them stocked with food. Also keep an eye out for pesky visitors like squirrels.
1. Register for the count or use your existing login name and password. If you have never participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count or any other Cornell Lab citizen-science project, you’ll need to create a new account. If you already created an account for last year’s GBBC, or if you’re already registered with eBird or another Cornell Lab citizen-science project, you can use your existing login information.
2. Count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the GBBC. You can count for longer than that if you wish! Count birds in as many places and on as many days as you like—one day, two days, or all four days. Submit a separate checklist for each new day, for each new location, or for the same location if you counted at a different time of day. Estimate the number of individuals of each species you saw during your count period.
3. Enter your results on the GBBC website by clicking “Submit Observations” on the home page. Or download the free GBBC BirdLog app to enter data on a mobile device. If you already participate in the eBird citizen-science project, please use eBird to submit your sightings during the GBBC. Your checklists will count toward the GBBC.
Common Redpoll (Missy Mandel)
Bird Identification Resources
Information Source: Great Backyard Bird Count