Tomorrow is the Last Day of the Great Backyard Bird Count

Yesterday and today Judy and I sat for an hour on the back porch, watching birds. This was not an example of us wasting time. No, it was an example of us carrying out our responsibilities as Citizen Scientists.

American Goldfinch at the nyjer seed feeder: is the coast clear?
American Goldfinch at the nyjer seed feeder: is the coast clear?

Specifically, we were taking part in the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). Launched in 1998 and led by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, the GBBC enlists amateur birdwatchers to measure bird population trends.

Male Downy Woodpecker with a beak full of suet.
Male Downy Woodpecker with a beak full of suet.

One thing I really like about the GBBC is that you can do it from the comfort of a chair by the window. That’s the kind of birdwatching I can really appreciate. Particularly since yesterday got down to 5 degrees F (-15 C). Today it was snowing and a bit warmer, but I still preferred to count my birds from inside.

Male Northern Cardinal.
Male Northern Cardinal.

Hardier birders head out to parks, beaches, nature preserves, and other likely outdoor locations.

Dark-Eyed Junco.
Dark-Eyed Junco.

Over both days Judy and I saw nine bird species, including Juncos, Goldfinches, Cardinals, Chickadees, House Sparrows, Tree Sparrows (I think), Downy Woodpeckers, and Hairy Woodpeckers. The greatest excitement, however, came when a Red-Tailed Hawk twice swooped through the backyard. This caused all the other birds to scatter and not return for another fifteen minutes or so.

2015-02-15 15.21.41
He looks cold, doesn’t he?

I was a little disappointed that the Red-Bellied Woodpeckers and White-Breasted Nuthatches did not make appearances, because they have been fairly frequent visitors to our back garden this winter. I even thought of cheating and putting them on my checklist (because they might have shown up, after all).

Female Downy Woodpecker.
Female Downy Woodpecker.

But then I thought, would Jonas Salk or Albert Einstein have falsely recorded a Red-Bellied Woodpecker on their checklists? I don’t think so. And so I stayed true to my oath as a Citizen Scientist. Not that there is an actual oath, but you know what I mean.

Another Dark-Eyed Junco.
Another Dark-Eyed Junco.

A nice thing about the GBBC is that you can enter your data online and see the data develop in real time. For example, as of this afternoon there were almost 43,000 checklists submitted from the USA, plus thousands more from 115 other countries. Closer to home, there were 223 checklists submitted from Cook County, Illinois, where I live.

2015-02-02 08.21.52 (2)

Monday, February 16, is the last day of the GBBC. I have the day off, and I’m thinking I’ll spend one more hour doing another checklist. Maybe the Red-Bellied Woodpecker will show up.

If you’d like to participate, check out the GBBC website here. You can spend as little as 15 minutes watching from the comfort of your own home, and there are guides to help with bird identification.

Have you taken part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, and if so what birds did you see?

39 Comments on “Tomorrow is the Last Day of the Great Backyard Bird Count

  1. I love a Citizen science project and ones you can participate in from the warmth of your home on a freezing day are especially good! I’ve just looked at your link Jason and its a global event with a few participants from the UK too. I’ve added your link to my bookmarks.

  2. I’ve done several 15 minute intervals at different times of the day. I have more Pine Siskins than anything else; they come in droves. The Nuthatches can be elusive little buggers! I agree, it is very nice to do this from the warmth of your home when the temperature is -7, as it is here this morning! The birds are all puffed out–the poor little chickadee looks about twice its normal size! Happy bird-watching, Jason!

  3. I do get a lot of birds at the feeders, but after the count last year, I no longer send it in. They have me in Niagara Falls, Canada and I tried and tried to have it changed. Once picked (their mistake, not mine), it seems you are that forever. Since I am listed wrong, I thought it better to not add my birds. Glad to see you have many birds. Poor things in this weather. We are -9 this morning. I am sure it was much colder last night. Considering how real birders count birds, adding an un-arriving bird species to your list would barely make a dent in how inaccurate is the actual count. Knowing they only estimate (mostly with huge flocks) made me reconsider the results. Also, the same bird keeps coming back in the time period. so they get recounted.

    • I do have trouble with birds leaving and returning. I’m sure this is inflating my counts. Though I get the sense that GBBC is more interested in the number of (and which) species than the exact counts. I’m sure they are aware that those numbers are not very reliable.

  4. I haven’t been doing the great Backyard Bird Count but I have been submitting as many checklists to ebird as possible. So yesterday my backyard bird count was submitted three different times of the day, depending on who showed up when. I made sure I didn’t double-count the House Sparrows and House Finches, but I had to wait until later when the Chickadees and Downy Woodpeckers showed up. I use the BirdLog app on my phone now so it’s easy to do a checklist anywhere.

    • Hmmm, I’ll have to look into that BirdLog app. As for double counting, I’m sure I did lots of it – but I’m not sure how to avoid it.

  5. I did the backyard count one year – it is a wonderful way to really focus on who is in your back yard! We have a lot of hawks overhead – not so good for the little birds – mmmm, delish to the hawks! They are spectacular creatures, and they’ve got to eat too but it’s not so nice when they swoop on a little tweet tweet!

  6. You had a good count Jason and I do hope those absent previously appeared for you today. We had our RSPB Bird count last month and many of my regulars were missing, coupled with the fact that I filled up the feeders that are away at the back of the garden, therefore had trouble counting them, meant it wasn’t such a good count as it had been in previous years.
    I had a new species visiting the garden today and was running around like a headless chicken to get the camera before she flew off. I managed one measly blurred picture!
    Super images btw.

  7. We have just completed a similar bird count here, every year the same old happens, all the usual birds disappear and return when the count has been completed, usually the next day.
    I just love your birds, I could have looked at these pics all day, especially of the woodpeckers, what delightful creatures they are.xxx

  8. This is such a nice project. Glad you and Judy joined in. I’d planned to but have been decidedly under the weather and unable to concentrate even for fifteen minutes. Today would have been a good time here to record though. We’re forecast some snow tonight, it’s bitter cold and the birds have been feeding furiously. There’s even an American Robin wandering around, wonder fin what happened to the nice sunny 72F we had Sunday a week ago.

  9. I wish there was something similar to record wildflower sightings. Of course, you couldn’t do that from your porch but it would be interesting I think to see where the highest concentrations of certain plants grew, and which were the rarest.

  10. Good for you. Sorry you did not see the Red-Bellied Woodpeckers and White-Breasted Nuthatches. You see just about the same birds in Ontario.

    • And winter is not the best season to see a diversity of birds here. I like the semi-tropical migrants such as the Orioles that arrive in May.

  11. Great photos! I think all my regulars are in Illinois, Canada, and down by the local lake for the open water this winter. Bird sightings have been sparse in my backyard lately. But I’m spending the end of winter in Florida, so the birds are incredibly numerous here. Heard a Tufted Titmouse this morning. Love that “Peter, Peter, Peter” song.

  12. That’s great that you are participating in GBBC. I’m terrible at identifying birds, and would probably throw off whatever numbers, simply because of my ignorance. Booh… That said – I do like to have them around, and I might just have to hunt down one of those nifty feeders you have in your last photo. Love it!

  13. I did take part–and from the comfort of my living room as well. I was disappointed, though, in the number of birds I saw this weekend; I think our lack of snow cover really made a difference from past years. The red-bellied woodpecker did show up here in time, but one bird I haven’t noticed much this year are the juncos; I wonder why? I was thinking of adding a couple to my list that have been around but didn’t show up while I was watching, but you’ve appealed to my conscience–I’ll be a truthful Citizen Scientist, too:)

  14. Just finished my 4-day count at our feeder with a much more birds than usual because of epic snowstorms in New England. What I really miss is the Christmas Bird Count. It was an annual event in Virginia but haven’t joined a group in NH yet.

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