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Birding In Your Own Backyard

01/25/2016 10:57AM ● By Michael O'Brien

Bird’s Eye View

February 2016

By Michael O’Brien

The Great Backyard Bird Count is one of the greatest citizen-science projects in the world. Sponsored by Audubon, Bird Studies Canada and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and held annually over President’s Day Weekend, anyone with an interest in birding or science can participate and contribute. 

The count began in 1998 and was the first online citizen-science project to collect data about wild birds and post results in real time. Since then, more than 100,000 people have joined the four-day count each February to help create a picture of the distribution and abundance of birds all over the world. Last year, people in more than 100 countries counted 5,090 species on 147,265 checklists, according to the Bird Count.

Here’s how you can contribute:

Go to and create your account. Here you will find a Great Backyard Bird Count Toolkit, which includes instructions, a data form, help identifying “tricky” birds, and a list of recommended birding apps to enhance your experience. 

Plan to spend at least 15 minutes outside on one or more days of the count (that’s the minimum time required, but stay longer if you’d like). Under the premise that “the world is your backyard,” you may set up your spot anywhere you’d like. Take your binoculars, notebook, pencil and bird field guide. Log the bird species and the number of each species you see in your notes during the time you are stationed in your spot. Once you’ve completed your session, go back to and report your findings.

The count is always fun, but the really interesting part happens once your findings are tallied. You are now a member of a worldwide team of birders who just came together on behalf of nearly every bird specieson the planet. The same website you visited to report your findings will now provide compiled results. The story told by the information gathered from participants like you is why the Great Backyard Bird Count was initiated. 

What story is told? According to, “Scientists use information from the Great Backyard Bird Count, along with observations from other citizen-science projects, such as the Christmas Bird Count, Project FeederWatch and eBird, to get the big picture about what is happening to bird populations. The longer these data are collected, the more meaningful they become in helping scientists investigate far-reaching questions.”

The Top 10 most frequently reported species in 2015 were Northern Cardinal, Dark-eyed Junco, Mourning Dove, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, American Goldfinch, House Finch, Tufted Titmouse, Black-capped Chickadee and House Sparrow. Have you seen any of these birds in your backyard?

Last year, California submitted the most checklists in the United States (8,453) and reported the most number of species (376). North State residents submitted many of the California checklists.

All in all, the United States submitted the most checklists worldwide, and recorded 671 species, the third-highest number reported. 

Contributing to science is fun and fulfilling. The bird count gives citizens an opportunity to make a difference, and birders a chance to add to their life lists. All are invited to participate.