Participants will help discover if last year's huge increase in Snowy Owl numbers is continuing.  Photo by Diane McAllister, courtesy of the Great Backyard Bird Count.
Participants will help discover if last year’s huge increase in Snowy Owl numbers is continuing. Photo by Diane McAllister / Great Backyard Bird Count

It’s time for the annual bird-lovers to give a Valentine to their fine-feathered friends: the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) runs from February 14–17, 2014!  You don’t have to leave home and you don’t even have to be an expert bird-watcher to participate.  This weekend-long bird count will include countries around the globe for the second year of the international count — “from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe” as the Great Backyard Bird Count website says.  The GBBC has been going on in North America for 17 years.

Most of us have more birds sharing our local area than we probably realize.  In the GBBC, you simply take at least 15 minutes to observe and count as many birds as you can see, then report it on the GBBC website.  You can count from a window, balcony, porch, or in your yard or local park.  You can count once or you can count many times over the weekend and even count from different locations.  On a walk through my neighborhood the other day, I was delighted with flocks of Cedar Waxwings, American Crows, robins, chickadees, and some warblers.  Right now a Nuttal’s woodpecker is feeding in my camellia tree.  Beginning bird watchers are welcome to try their hand at this local bird count and the website has some helpful sections on identifying bird species.

Adorable Blackcapped Chickadees might make your report.  Photo by Carol Poulos, courtesy of the Great Backyard Bird Count.
Adorable Blackcapped Chickadees might make your report. Photo by Carol Poulos / Great Backyard Bird Count.

“Last year’s Great Backyard Bird Count shattered records after going global for the first time, thanks to integration with the eBird online checklist program launched in 2002 by the Cornell Lab and Audubon,” touts the website.

“Participants reported their bird sightings from all 7 continents, including 111 countries and independent territories. More than 33.4 million birds and 4,258 species were recorded—nearly one-third of the world’s total bird species documented in just four days.”

Data like this can only come from tens-of-thousands of volunteers; there aren’t enough scientists on the clock to gather it.  Scientists use this information to monitor and track avian species health and locations.  It may even inform us about how bird species are reacting to climate change.  Last year, for example, insect-eating birds such as swallows moved into new territories making scientists ponder the link to climate change.

“This is a milestone for citizen science in so many respects—number of species, diversity of countries involved, total participants, and number of individual birds recorded. We hope this is just the start of something far larger, engaging the whole world in creating a detailed annual snapshot of how all our planet’s birds are faring as the years go by,” said Cornell Lab director Dr. John Fitzpatrick.

Are Downy Woodpeckers visiting your yard?  Help track where they're found.  Photo by Charlie Prince, courtesy of the Great Backyard Bird Count.
Are Downy Woodpeckers visiting your yard? Help track where they’re found. Photo by Charlie Prince / Great Backyard Bird Count.

Make this year’s GBBC a time to get to know the birds that share your neighborhood.  You might develop or deepen an appreciation for the natural world just outside your door.  You’re also welcome to come out with a naturalist to learn more about our feathered neighbors.  Free, guided bird walks are available through the East Bay Regional Parks and also through the Golden Gate Audubon Society.  The GBBC is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society with partner Bird Studies Canada.

Love’s For the Birds: Global Great Backyard Bird Count Begins Today 17 February,2014Sharol Nelson-Embry


Sharol Nelson-Embry

Sharol Nelson-Embry is the Supervising Naturalist at the Crab Cove Visitor Center & Aquarium on San Francisco Bay in Alameda. Crab Cove is part of the East Bay Regional Park District, one of the largest and oldest regional park agencies in the nation. She graduated from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo with a degree in Natural Resources Management and an epiphany that connecting kids with nature was her destiny. She’s been rooted in the Bay Area since 1991 after working at nature centers and outdoor science schools around our fair state. She loves the great variety of habitats stretching from the Bay shoreline to the redwoods, lakes, and hills. Sharol enjoys connecting people to nature with articles in local newspapers and online forums.

Read her previous contributions to QUEST, a project dedicated to exploring the Science of Sustainability.

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