I, Citizen Scientist

We just got another six inches of snow, but let’s not talk about that. Let’s talk about the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), which ends today and which I participated in for the first time.

Cardinals at my platform feeder.
Cardinals at my platform feeder.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is an exercise in crowd sourcing begun in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Audubon Society, and Bird Studies Canada. The basic idea is that on at least one day over a long weekend, volunteers jot down all the birds they see over a set period, which can be as little as 15 minutes. Β The location can be a park, a wildlife preserve, or your own yard (which is my preference).

Since I already spend a lot of time watching birds from the back porch, I figured I might as well count them and contribute to something productive.

A Cardinal in the bush is worth ...
A Cardinal in the bush is worth …

Last year, over 100,ooo people from 111 countries reported seeing more than 33 million birds on the GBBC website. The data helps scientists identify at-risk species and changes in migration patterns, among other things.

Judy and I had fun counting birds in the back garden from the comfort of our enclosed porch. We did 15 minutes for each day of the project. There were lots of birds, though of only seven species, which was a little disappointing. We saw many Northern Cardinals, plus Mourning Doves, Goldfinches, House Finches, Juncos, Downy Woodpeckers – and, of course, English Sparrows. A number of our favorites, such as the Chickadees, Nuthatches, Bluejays, and Northern Flickers, did not bother to visit us during our counting periods.

House Finch (wearing red) and English Sparrow.
House Finch (wearing red) and English Sparrows.

I felt quite virtuous while entering my bird reports, like I had done my bit for ornithology. In fact, I was so inspired I signed up for another citizen science project sponsored by the Cornell Lab: Project FeederWatch, which I’ll write about in a later post. Just know that if you regret missing out on the Great Backyard Bird Count, Project FeederWatch lasts until April 4th. Plus, there’s always next year.

Have you ever participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count?


58 Comments on “I, Citizen Scientist”

  1. Oh how fun! We were in the Chicago suburbs for a family event, so I didn’t have a moment to spare this weekend. I love to watch the birds, though, but they do seem to come and go in waves this time of year. Lots of feeding just before a storm, and then they hunker down. Smart creatures!

  2. I have not participated but what a wonderful event to partake in! Doing what you love all in the name of science!!! So fun!!! I will have to make note of this as the beans and I have fun watching the birds in our tree as well as watching them fly under our wood steps from our kitchen! Have a great week Jason! Nicole

  3. Wonderful reporting, Jason! So happy to hear you participated in the GBBC, especially with your yard. I still have some results to add from yesterday…but I agree, it’s almost as if the word got out and some of the species stayed home! I had more birds last weekend. In any event, you are welcome to count and add your observations any time of the year to Cornell’s website, ebird. Welcome to the flock! And great Cardinal pictures (again, at least in my yard, the female Cardinals stayed home, only the guys showed up).

  4. We used to do a bird count each winter in our mountain garden. Obviously with all the snow there it was quite an interesting thing to do, but here in France the winters are so mild and the feeder attracts the same birds (tits, robins, blackbirds) all the time. Most of them still find lots in nature. You have an advantage with your snow, definitely πŸ˜‰

  5. At 79 I am now legally blind and most of my birding is confined to the great photos available on the Internet. Those photos that are available from IBET birders in the Chicago area are a comfort to this old lady. I will shovel a narrow path to the mail box this morning and add a 5 x 5 foot patch on the drive, dump some oilers and let the good Lord do the rest. Sure hope Skilling is right about the forecast for the rest of this week. Maryann Gossmann, Montgomery, IL _avocetmtg@aol.com_ (mailto:avocetmtg@aol.com)

    • Hi, Sarah. If you use a smartphone, you might give the Merlin Bird ID app a try. It’s created by Cornell Ornithology, and is available for certain on iPhone; an Android app was in the works and may be available by now. It asks five very general questions about the bird’s appearance and behavior, and based on your location, finds the most likely candidates. Photos and sound clips of each make it easy to narrow down from there. I’ve become hooked on it, as has my daughter. We are planning to participate in the next GBBC with Merlin to guide us. Good luck!

  6. We have what’s called the Big Bird Watch run by the RSPB over here Jason, similar format etc. It does make you feel that you’ve done your bit doesn’t it.
    Sods law that there are a few species that don’t turn up.
    I love seeing those Cardinals and well done on enrolling for Project Feeder Watch – I look forward to reading about that.

  7. Yes we count here, there is an organisation the RSPB (Royal society for the Protection of Birds) who have a yearly count – The big Garden Birdwatch on the last weekend in January, they ask the recorder to count all species in an hour long period at any time over that weekend. We have done this since our children were very small and have learnt masses whilst being involved. There is also another organisation in the UK the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology), who have many more surveying opportunities. I love being involved with these counts, I feel I can contribute even if only in a small way and its still valuable.

  8. We also just had 6 inches of snow. It was goof of you and Judy to take part in the bird count. I should too, even if the variety is not as great as it is at your place, but we also have cardinals. Last summer I took part in a project where you had to report whip-poor-wills (they are very noisy, all through the night).

  9. Glad to learn that you’re doing the Cornell FeederWatch program. I’ve been doing it for years – and I learn so much because I’m watching my feeders more systematically than I would otherwise. Inevitably I see birds that I wouldn’t have noticed without paying careful attention, from different species of birds to birds with abnormalities and I’ve even noted some unusual bird behaviors.

  10. I never participated in those GBBC. I thought of doing it this year, but this came up and that came up, I forgot and then it never happened. I also spend quite a few times watching the birds from our windows. We always have sparrows, finches, cardinals, bluejay, chickadees, nuthatch, junco, titmouse, sparrow, dove, two types of woodpeckers and sterlings. Perhaps I should participate one day.

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