The Great Backyard Bird Count: Be a citizen scientist

Young and old can serve as citizen scientists by helping with the Great Backyard Bird Count, February 15-18.

The Great Backyard Bird Count will take place February 15-18 around the globe. The Great Backyard Bird Count provides a great opportunity for young and old to connect with nature by discovering birds and serve as “citizen scientists” by participating in a huge world-wide science project. Participating is easy. Simply watch birds for at least 15 minutes at the location of your choice on one or more of the count days. Estimate the number of birds you see for each species you can identify and report your data online.

Particpating in The Great Backyard Bird Count creates a great opportunity for families, youth and children to engage in citizen science, furthering Michigan State University Extension and Michigan 4-H Youth Development’s goal to foster science literacy skills in young people.  

The success of the Great Backyard Bird Count depends on participants from every community helping count birds across the United States and Canada. It’s fun, easy, raises awareness of birds and provides an important record of where the birds are – a record that scientists can use well into the future to track how birds are faring as their environments change. The longer this data is collected, the more meaningful they become in helping scientists investigate far-reaching questions such as:

  • How does weather influence bird populations?
  • What kinds of differences in bird diversity are apparent in cities versus suburban, rural and natural areas?
  • How does the timing of birds’ migrations compare with past years?
  • How are bird diseases, such as West Nile virus, affecting birds in different regions?

To report all the kinds and numbers of birds you see during the annual count, you’ll need to create an account on The Great Backyard Bird Count website. After completing the simple registration. You will get a checklist of birds you might see in your area during February. In the boxes, you’ll enter your estimate for the number of individuals of each species you saw while you were counting. You put in a new list for each time you count, whether it’s on the same day, a different day, at the same place or at a new location. For each time you count, you’ll select your location on a map, answer a few questions, enter your tallies and then submit your data to share your sightings with others around the world.

The global capacity for the count will be powered by eBird, an online checklist program for all of the world’s 10,240 bird species. As the count progresses, anyone with Internet access can explore what is being reported from their own towns or from anywhere in the world. Participants will be able to view what others are seeing on interactive maps, keep their own records and have their tallies recorded for perpetuity.

Participants may also send in photographs of the birds they see for a photo contest. A selection of images can be viewed in the online photo gallery.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is led by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, with Canadian partner Bird Studies Canada and sponsorship from Wild Birds Unlimited.

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