Backyard Connections: Help Scientists by Joining The Great Backyard Bird Count

by Melissa Harding

Are you ready for some science? It’s been a whole month since the most recent citizen science challenge posted here and it’s time for another one! The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society, is another chance to help scientists gain a better understanding of overall bird health around the world. Taking place February 13-16, 2014, the GBBC is an annual four-day event that asks bird lovers to create real-time “snapshots” of where birds are. Birders count the number of birds that they see in their backyard, area park, or local green space and submit this information to scientists, who combine it with data from the Christmas Bird Count and other sources to get a more complete picture of what is happening to bird populations.

Why have two bird counts so close together in time? Bird populations are dynamic and constantly in a state of flux. Birds are always moving from place to place in search of food and shelter, especially during the winter months. Scientists need citizen help because no single team of scientists could ever completely document the complex distribution and movement of so many birds. The longer and more frequently bird populations are documented, the more useful the data becomes, especially as scientists begin to assess trends over time. Having so much data also helps scientists to ask more difficult questions, such as why bird diseases affect different regions or why the phenology of migration patterns changes from year to year. Even better, the February GBBC used to only take place in the United States and Canada, but now that it is a global count, birds are counted in all seasons. This gives scientists even more useful data!

The GBBC is such a great program because it is accessible to everyone, even beginning birders and families. Anyone can participate for as little as 15 minutes or as long as each day of the event. It’s easy to get started – simply create a free GBBC account to submit your checklist. Once you have an account, tally the number of individual bird species that you see during the count period and then enter those numbers on the GBBC website. If you decide to count on multiple days or in multiple locations, just be sure to submit a separate checklist for each day and/or location. You can also send in photos of your backyard birds, the best of which will be posted on their website as part of a photo gallery.

To learn how to participate in the GBBC, visit the Cornell Lab website. Get comprehensive instructions here, as well as answers to frequently asked questions.

New to bird watching, check out Cornell’s excellent resources for identifying difficult birds, using binoculars, and more!

Learn more about citizen science projects to do with your family on the blog!

The above video is used courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

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