Scientists want you for Great Backyard Bird Count!
by Karen Benson
Jan 27, 2013 | 2041 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Robert Benson photo
The Northern Cardinal is a beautiful bird. Everybody knows the cardinal. It is also the most common backyard bird across North America, according to the Great Backyard Bird Count.
Robert Benson photo The Northern Cardinal is a beautiful bird. Everybody knows the cardinal. It is also the most common backyard bird across North America, according to the Great Backyard Bird Count.
Quick! What is the most common backyard bird in North America? You guessed it! It is the Northern Cardinal. (Did the photo tip you off?)

How do we know this? Did someone count all the birds around the country? Yes, indeed, someone did. Not just one “someone” but many individuals working together.

The count is known as the Great Backyard Bird Count. It occurs over a long weekend in February. And it has been going on for 15 years now. Its goal is to have as many people counting the birds in their own yards during the same time period as possible. Last year, there were more than 104,000 checklists submitted from tens of thousands of participants. More than 17 million individual birds were counted!

No single scientist or even a team of scientists could hope to gather so much information about birds around the world in just a short period of time. This kind of count results in a fairly accurate estimate of how many birds there are and where they are. And the more participants, the more accurate the counting can be!

The 2013 Great Backyard Bird Count will be held from Feb. 15 (a Friday) through the 18th (a Monday). You may participate on all four days if you like, or only once. You may count multiple times at the same location. You may also count at different locations during the time period.

The Great Backyard Bird Count wants you! It’s easy to participate. First, you select a location. It may be your backyard, but it can also be a park, a nature trail, a schoolyard, or even a landfill! Then, you count birds at this location for 15 minutes. You may count longer if you wish; just keep track of the amount of time you spend watching.

During the period of time you are observing birds, you make an estimate of the number of individuals of each species you identify. Because birds move rapidly and may occur in large flocks, it is sometimes hard to get an exact count. It is only necessary to give your best estimate.

When you are ready to submit your checklist of birds, simply go online to This is the Great Backyard Bird Count website. You will click on the “Submit your checklist” button at the top. (Notice: This button won’t be active until the morning the count begins on Feb. 15.) The GBBC website will walk you through the setup process and data submission.

The best thing about participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count is that you become a “citizen scientist.” Your data will add to an extensive database of information about birds around the world. Not only do the data tell us the whereabouts of birds, they give us an idea of the size of bird populations.

Since the count is ongoing, these data indicate changes in bird populations and locations from year to year. Birds respond to weather and climate changes, urbanization and pressure from invasive species. An annual count, taken at the same time from thousands of precisely pinpointed locations, gives scientists a snapshot of what is going on with the birds.

For instance, look at some of the highlights of the 2012 GBBC. Northern Cardinal was reported on more checklists than any other bird for the eighth year in a row! The cardinal is definitely a widespread and adaptable species. It was followed closely by the Mourning Dove. The most numerous bird species was the Snow Goose (more than 3 million individuals). Several species “irrupted” (moved out of their usual range in record numbers) in 2012. This included the arctic-dwelling Snowy Owl. More than 400 individual Snowy Owls invaded the northern tier of states during the GBBC last winter. Common Redpolls, arctic relatives of goldfinches, also irrupted last winter. Two of them showed up in Texas!

But don’t take my word for it. Go to and mine the data for yourselves. You will discover a fascinating picture of our continent’s bird life for the past 15 years. Just click on “Explore the Results” button at the top.

Make plans now to participate in the 2013 count. This year will be the first in which checklists can be submitted from around the world. It is going to be the first global snapshot of the world’s birds. Join with me and be a part of the citizen scientist team on Feb. 15-18. Remember: It’s fun, it’s free and it helps the birds.
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