Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Great Backyard Bird Count

Great Backyard Bird Count buttonThe Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual event that enlists people to take a massive snapshot of where birds are in North America over the course of four days in February. In 2009, participants reported on a mind-boggling 11.5 million birds (check out the results for Washington, DC here). Scientists could never gather such a broad data set in such a short time without enlisting help from the general public.

It all works because they make it really easy to help. As little as 15 minutes of bird counting qualifies you to report your observations to the GBBC. You can literally observe in your backyard -- or you can go to a park and count birds there. And, perhaps most importantly, you don't have to be an expert to participate. Here's what you do:
  1. Look for birds for at least 15 minutes on February 13-16.

  2. Keep track of the species of birds that you see, and for each species, the largest number that you see together simultaneously. (You might find it helpful to use a checklist of the possible birds in our area. And if you see a bird that you can't identify, and you don't have a field guide, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a fantastic online guide.)

  3. Enter the information on the GBBC website. (Note that if you observe on more than one day, or in more than one place, you should enter the info separately. You'll also be asked to report the times that you were looking, the type of habitat, and some other basic information -- see this form.)
Once everyone has entered their results, the information is available online for researchers to get a sense of how bird populations are faring in general, how they react to specific weather patterns or larger climate changes, and how their migration patterns vary from year to year. These first-pass observations from the GBBC are usually followed up with more in-depth study, but the GBBC can help tell folks where to look.

Let's make sure there's plenty in the database on the Washington DC region -- go count some birds!

Photo credit: That nuthatch is by Christine Haines, via the GBBC.