Everyone Can Count Birds for a Great Cause

Photo courtesy of Doug Clarke

It is backyard bird counting time of the year! The 24th Annual Great Backyard Bird Count begins this Friday, February 12th, and runs through Monday the 15th. The good news is that anyone can help count birds. This long-running annual count depends as much on the novice bird watcher as it does on more experienced birders. It also does not matter if you do not know every bird you see.

In many ways, this Citizen Science program was initiated to engage bird lovers at all levels, to help the scientific community collect data on the more common species of birds everywhere, at one time of the year. But before you say “not me,” let me explain how easy this is to do and why you should.

  • You do not need to know and report on every kind of bird you see. You will only be reporting birds that you are certain of, like Cardinals, Blue Jays, Blue Birds and Carolina Wrens. Your level of expertise will be recorded as part of your online report by this simple question: “Are you reporting every species you saw?”
  • Any one count will take as little as 15 minutes of your time. You can count for longer if you like.
  • Yes, you can count birds at your feeder, and across your backyard, if you like.
  • And it doesn’t matter if you count more birds than your neighbor. This is not a contest! Accuracy, as a Citizen Scientist, is paramount.

As to why you should participate, you will be helping bird scientists judge the health of bird populations across their range, that is something they cannot do without the help of people just like you! You are their eyes and ears during this one, 4-day event every year for the past 24 years. Long-term data sets like this are rare and this one has already shed much light on the status of birds across the breadth of North America.

To learn exactly how to participate, visit the GBBC webpage at and go to “How to Participate.” You can use the free Merlin Bird ID or eBird app to record your observations. The only rules of the count are that any one count should be for a minimum of 15 minutes and that you can only report birds for any one location once per day. You can count at multiple locations on any given day if you like.

This event is a great way to engage children of all ages around watching our feathered friends and could start a life-long love of our natural world. The GBBC is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the National Audubon Society and Birds Canada, with support from Wild Birds Unlimited.

So, grab your child, grandchild, spouse, or Grandmaw and count birds for science! I promise it will be fun!

Hope to see you in our great outdoors!


Written by Mark W. LaSalle, Ph.D.

Mark is a naturalist and wetland ecologist, providing expertise on wetlands, water quality and environmental impacts of humans. He has also developed and conducted a number of environmental education programs and workshops for youth, teachers, realtors, and the general public on a variety of subjects including wetlands, natural history, and environmental landscaping. Mark is a graduate of the University of Southwestern Louisiana (B.S. and M.S. degrees) and Mississippi State University (Ph.D.). Mark is the recipient of the Chevron Conservation Award, the Mississippi Wildlife Federation Conservation Educator Award, the Gulf Guardian Award, and the Boy Scouts of America Silver Beaver Award.

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