The Great Backyard Bird Count is just in time


The 18th annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) takes place Feb. 13-16 so you can celebrate your love of birds on Valentine’s Day.

A joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the National Audubon Society, and Bird Studies Canada, the GBBC is an opportunity for all to discover the wonders of nature we call birds. Begun in 1998, the GBBC enlists birders of all skill levels in an effort to keep common birds common.

It provides a snapshot of midwinter bird abundance and distribution. Last year, GBBC “citizen scientists” from 135 countries turned in 144,109 checklists reporting a total of 17,748,756 individual birds and 4,296 species — that’s about 43 percent of all the bird species in the world!

In addition to the United States and Canada, India, Australia and Mexico led the way with the greatest number of checklists submitted.

Where they stand

In the United States, California birders submitted the most checklists (9,452), followed by New York (8,450), and Pennsylvania (7,617). Ohio ranked seventh with 5,798 checklists, Michigan ranked 10th (4,334), and West Virginia ranked 37th (898).

The species reported on the most checklists were northern cardinals (61,045), dark-eyed juncos (58,077), mourning doves (50,596), blue jays (45,027), and downy woodpeckers (42,215). The most numerous bird reported in the United States was the red-winged blackbird, with 1,609,037 counted.

In 2014, North American birdwatchers fell in love with snowy owls when they were reported in unprecedented numbers across southeastern Canada, the Great Lakes states, the Northeast, and down the Atlantic Coast.
Higher numbers. Expect snowy owls to show up in higher numbers during this year’s GBBC, too.

“It’s called an ‘echo flight,’” explains Marshall Iliff, eBird Project Leader at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “After a huge irruption like we had last winter, the following year often yields higher-than-usual numbers as well. The abundance of lemmings that produced last year’s snowy owl irruption likely continued or emerged in new areas of eastern Canada, more owls may have stayed east after last year’s irruption, and some of last year’s birds that came south are returning.”

“This may also be a big year for finches,” noted Audubon Chief Scientist Gary Langham. “GBBC participants in North America should be on the lookout for larger numbers of pine siskins and redpolls. These birds also push farther south when pine cone seed crops fail in the far north of Canada.”

“We especially want to encourage people to share their love of birds and bird watching with someone new this year,” said Dick Cannings at Bird Studies Canada. “Share your passion, and you may fledge a brand new bird watcher!”

Anyone can participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count, from novice bird watchers to experts. Participants count birds for as little as 15 minutes (or as long as they wish) on one or more days of the event and report their sightings online. Counts can be done anywhere from the backyard to a local park, nature center or wildlife refuge.

It’s easy, free and fun.

During the count, results are updated hourly on animated maps and colorful graphs for all to view. This feedback allows participants to see almost immediately how their observations fit into the continental perspective.

Results from previous GBBCs are also available online.

Digital photos

Pat Leonard, a spokesperson for the lab, said they also receive thousands of digital photos each year from all over the country. To see some of the best recent photos and the winners of the GBBC photo contests, visit

The GBBC web site also includes a variety of other useful birding information — vocabulary, birdwatching and bird feeding tips, and vocalizations. It’s a valuable resource for all birders, especially students.

The GBBC is a terrific way to contribute to a better understanding of birds. For more information about the GBBC or the Lab of Ornithology, contact the Lab at 159 Sapsucker Woods Road, Ithaca, NY 14850,, or call 800/843-2473.


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Scott Shalaway, who holds a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology from Michigan State University, writes from his home in rural West Virginia. A former faculty member at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma Biological Station, he has been writing a weekly nature column for newspapers and freelancing for magazines since 1986. He can be heard on Birds & Nature from 3-4 p.m. Sunday afternoons on 620 KHB Radio, Pittsburgh, or live online anywhere at, or on the Tune-In radio app. Visit his website at or contact him directly at or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.



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