Birds

How To Have A Bunch Of Great Backyard Bird Count Fun

Originally published January 2018; Revised in February 2021.

Mid-February is the time of year when the world’s hourglass tips over and the birds slowly reverse direction – towards their spring (or autumn in the southern hemisphere). The Great Backyard Bird Count was developed to capture that moment of silence and to give scientists a picture of bird populations at one extreme of the year. In its 3/10 year history, it has grown from a 2 country census (US and Canada) to a global escapade, accounting for about 60% of the world’s bird species. It’s a long weekend perfectly situated to get your binoculars out and not to put them back down for 4 days. This is how you make the most of it – for you and for the birds.

It all starts with just 3 simple rules:

  • On February 12, 13, 14, or 15, 2021, watch and count the birds for at least 15 minutes
  • Keep track of how long you’ve been counting
  • Start a new count for each new location or day / time

Go to your favorite place – or anywhere you want. It doesn’t have to be your backyard; it can be anywhere. Literally anywhere on earth. We’ve had people in Antarctica who counted penguins. We also had many counts from subway centers and kitchen windows. All birds everywhere is what we strive for – and “your” birds are just as important as others.

Greet them with a feeder or two. There’s no need to watch birds at a feeder – but having counting at home is a great way to increase activity. We have plenty of suggestions and advice on what types of feeds to use, the benefits of bird baths, and what types of feed each species of bird is most likely to enjoy.

Grab your own flock. Bird watching is fun in a group, and extra eyes mean you can often see more. Grab a friend, child, grandchild, parent, spouse or cousin – you can even print out a certificate of attendance for them as a token of pride.

Get ready to enter your sightings. You need a free Cornell Lab account. (If you’re using eBird, Bird Academy, Project FeederWatch, or NestWatch, you already have one.) Your account allows all of your sightings to be seamlessly transferred to the central eBird database, where they are available to scientists for analysis. You can enter sightings using our free apps (click the links for full instructions): Merlin Bird ID (great for beginners) or eBird Mobile (for entering complete checklists); or you can use our eBird website.

Equip yourself with free apps. Our eBird mobile app tracks how far you’ve gone, how long you’ve been bird watching and allows you to enter data directly from the field, making data entry as easy as possible. With our Merlin Bird ID app you can narrow down which sparrow, chickadee or finch you have seen and save sightings individually.

Psst…. You can have fun counting birds every day of the year. So, if you miss the Great Backyard Bird Count or just don’t want to stop, you can use the same tips to count birds and enter them into eBird every day of the year.

More questions? For more explanations and examples, see the GBBC official FAQ page and the participation page. There is even a full GBBC webinar that you can watch anytime and where experts from Cornell Lab, Audubon and Birds Canada answer all your questions.

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