It's Backyard Bird Count Time

One, two, three, or four days. Fifteen minutes. As many birds as you can see. So many numbers, all in the name of conservation.

Yep, it’s that time again, time for the annual Great Backyard Bird Count, a joint project of Audubon, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and Bird Studies Canada, and—if years past are any indication—a citizen-science effort worthy of its name.

[If you’re on Twitter writing about or live-tweeting your Great Backyard Bird Count experience, use the hashtag #GBBC.]

Starting on Friday, Feb. 17 and running through Monday, Feb. 20, pick up your binoculars and guidebook and get counting—for a few as 15 minutes. No commitment necessary, here. “Count birds in as many places and on as many days as you like,” according to the GBBC instructions. “Submit a separate checklist for each new day. You can also submit more than one checklist per day if you count in [more than one] location.” Click here for info on how to enter your data.

Before you start, make sure you know which type of counting you’re doing. Here are your options, from the GBBC site:
1. Stationary Count: This is a count made in one area, such as your backyard, where you remain in one place. In this case, report the highest number of each species seen together at one time.

2. Traveling Count: This is a count made over a distance, such as birding on a trail. In this case, count new birds of each species as you move along, but only if you can be relatively certain you did not count them previously. Add the numbers for each species at the end of your walk.

Last year, spotters counted a whopping 11,347,308 of 574 different species. Wow! The top 10 by individuals counted included:
1. European starling, 1,378,210
2. American robin, 1,044,654
3. Common grackle, 943,262
4. Canada goose, 730,441
5. Red-winged blackbird, 554,034
6. Snow goose, 538,023
7. American crow, 314,411
8. American goldfinch, 303,654
9. Dark-eyed junco, 276,963
10. Mallard, 254,130

What will come out on top this year? A few other 2011 GBBC trivia facts: New York submitted the most checklists but Texas spotted the most species.

Of course, the GBBC is about much more than seeing who can count the most birds (though that part does offer a certain, shall we say, motivation). It provides crucial data about bird trends. For example, last year’s GBBC showed that winter finches were moving south and that a Eurasian collared dove made it all the way to Alaska.

Birders also reported seeing more evening grosbeaks: “The total number of observations for this species is the highest it has ever been during the GBBC, an increase that isn’t simply attributable to greater GBBC participation,” notes the 2011 summary. “A closer look finds this upturn especially marked in the northwestern U.S. and in Canada. However, the evening grosbeak is also an irruptive species and this increase in reports may simply reflect that. We’ll keep monitoring their numbers in future counts to see whether this is indicative of a long-term trend.”

The more people out there counting, the better chance we have of recording as many species as possible. So game on, birders, and good luck.

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