The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is an annual four-day event that engages bird watchers of all ages and skill levels in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the continent. This is a project for anyone interested in birds. It does not need to take a lot of time and or travel to be involved. It also is easy to do and free. The information collected helps birds.
What? This is a winter bird count in a defined location, usually a place that is familiar to the participant. You can go outside and locate birds in a certain area or you can just stay at home and watch birds out-side your window. Each person or group generates a checklist for that location. It is a very popular event with over 92,000 checklists submitted in the 2011 event. This is the largest instantaneous snap-shot of bird populations ever recorded in North America.
When? The GBBC usually takes place in February, long after the Christmas Bird Count and before spring migration. Each year is it a different set of four con-secutive dates, including days during the school and work week and the weekend.
Who? Anyone with basic bird identification skills can participate. It does not need to take much time, only 15 minutes will do. Or, if you have the time you can count birds all day. The Cornell Laboratory of Orni-thology website includes tutorials on the skills needed to participate, such as bird identification, bird calls and bird counting.
Where? People generally adopt their own backyards as the event's name implies. Some do the count at a school, a park, a zoo, or a nature center. A site does not have to involve a feeding station, but should have vegetation that attracts birds.
How? Each participant adopts a location to do the bird count. Participants count all birds of each species that they see during the four days of the count period. They should plan to count birds for at least 15 min-utes of any day they participate. You can count each day or just some of the days and you can count in different places. Just be sure to keep a separate list of birds for each day and each location. Further expla-nation is provided at the Great Backyard Bird Count website. Just stop over to check it out.
Participants should write down only the highest number of each species that are seen together at any one time as the species total count. For exam-ple, if you seen eight cardinals when the count starts and then later see 12 at once, report only the highest number 12, not the total for the day.
With the growth of GBBC, more people want to participate by traveling around their chosen survey area. So, there now are two kinds of counts: stationery and traveling counts. A stationary count is one made in one area, such as your backyard, where you remain in one place. In this case, simply report the highest number of each species seen together at one time, as usual. A traveling count is made over a distance, such as walking along a trail. In this case, you will count new birds of each species as you move along. You can add the numbers for each spe-cies at the end of the walk.
When you are ready with all your data, go the GBBC website www.BirdCount.org and click on the big "Submit your checklists" button at the top. This button does not appear until 7a.m. on the Friday the GBBC begins. Everything you need to know will be clear stated on the webpage as you enter your information. Participants can collect data at multiple locations and on more than one day of the period. The website also allows participants to post pictures of their observations and explore the results of the survey.
Get Involved: Go to the GBBC website and sign up for the project. This website includes many instruc-tional materials useful for all ages, especially the young. Beginners will have an easy time using the various educational materials offered about birds. If you have more advanced skills, lead a GBBC count at a school or nature center. Teachers can easily get classes involved with GBBC, which provides educator's materials. For educators or birders providing some outreach for their organizations, ready-to-go presentations also are available for public education.
Benefits: Each checklist submitted by these citizen scientists helps researchers at the Cornell Lab of Or-nithology and the National Audubon Society learn more about how birds are doing – and how to protect them and the environment we share. People learn about bird identification and scientific surveys by par-ticipating. The large amount of information generated by the GBBC assists researchers in their studies of bird populations and distributions. It is truly a snapshot of bird populations across the continent. The GBBC website allows anyone to explore the results of the survey visually. The GBBC is a gateway into more advanced bird surveys like the Christmas Bird Count and eBird.