"I was always afraid to try. I thought it was just for serious birdwatchers. Now I see regular backyard bird lovers can contribute, too."
That was the comment submitted by a first-time Great Backyard Bird Counter last year. This is one citizen science project where everyone can get in on the action: experts, novices, kids, whole families and the house-bound. And the best part about it is, as one eight-year old participant stated: "Birds are very beautiful and I think that the backyard bird count is a lot of fun."
Hereís what you do: First, visit the GBBC website at www.birdsource.org/gbbc/ to learn how to participate (itís free!) There you can find identification tips and print out a regional tally sheet. Thereís even a special page for kids! Then, on Presidents Day weekend, grab a warm coat and gloves and step outside for a minimum of 15 minutes on one or more days. Have the tally sheet or a notepad and pencil or pen handy. Watch your bird feeders, the trees around your property and even the sky above and note the number of birds of each species that you see together at any one time. You may also choose a location in a park or schoolyard, or watch from indoors at a window. You can even do this if you are away on a ski weekend, as long as you know the ZIP code of your location. If you have binoculars and a bird identification guide, great. But you can do this without them. If you canít count or identify every bird you see, itís ok. It is just as important to report the five or six species coming to your feeder as for someone else to report dozens of species seen at a wildlife refuge. When youíve finished your count for the day, go back to the website and enter your tally. While at the site, click on "Explore the Results" and see how many other GBBCers are also entering data. Itís fun to watch the map fill in with red dots as tallies are logged in.
The Great Backyard Bird Count is more than just a fun way to break up the mid-winter doldrums. Last year, participants reported a record breaking 11 million birds of 616 species in more than 80,000 checklists, an all-time record for the ten years of the count. This much data collected by so many people throughout the United States and Canada tells scientists where birds are from one winter to the next. Such a large body of information could never be put together by professional scientists; it takes regular folks just like yourself...citizen scientists. Some of the important questions that will be answered are: How will this winterís snow and cold influence bird populations? How will the timing of birdsí migrations compare with past years? Are any birds undergoing worrisome declines that point to the need for conservation attention?
Thereís a good chance you will spend more time counting than you expected. And, after your first day, youíll probably want to go out another, and another. As one of last yearís GBBCers said, "It was a quiet and peaceful project. In todayís busy and exhausting lifestyle, everyone should sit still and observe the birds."