Great Backyard Bird Count

Downy Woodpecker adult male, eastern © Adrian & Jane Binns/VIREO

Scientists and bird watchers can learn a lot just by knowing where birds are located at any given time. But birds are always on the move and populations constantly rise and fall. No single scientist or even a team of scientists could hope to document the complex distribution and movements of so many species over huge landscapes in such a short time as just four days. Enter the Great Backyard Bird Count, and thousands of bird watchers like you.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual four-day event that engaging bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the entire continent. This year the count will take place from February 17-20th. Anyone can participate, from beginning bird watchers to experts. It takes as little as 15 minutes on one day, or you can count for as long as you like each day of the event at as many places as you’d like.

Northern Cardinal, adult male © Glenn Bartley/VIREO

You don’t have to be a bird expert to participate. If you see a species you can’t identify, consult Audubon Guides for help. But if you’re still not sure what the bird is, you don’t have to report that species. Only report the ones you do know. There is something everyone can contribute to this project.

Last year GBBC participants reported 594 species on more than 92,000 lists—counting more than 11.4 million birds for the GBBC. Warmer temperatures and lack of snow in parts of North America are setting the stage for what could be a most intriguing count yet.

American Robin © Garth McElroy/VIREO

Past counts have shown the highest probability of finding American Robins in areas without snow. That probability dropped dramatically in areas with even just a few centimeters of snow cover. In the Northeast this year we are seeing unprecedented numbers of American Robins in the north and we are also experiencing record low snow pack.

Over the last 15 years, GBBC participants have helped track the spread of Eurasian Collared-Doves. Native to Europe, these doves escaped captivity and first appeared in Florida in the 1980’s. They have been expanding their range ever since. In the most recent count, participants reported Eurasian Collared-Doves in 40 states and provinces, and it was even reported from Alaska for the first time during the 2011 GBBC!

Eurasian Collared-Dove © Rob Curtis/VIREO

Every sighting reported in the Great Backyard Bird Count becomes part of a permanent record that anyone with Internet access can explore. You can use the information to track year-to-year changes in the abundance and distribution of birds and learn about the complex patterns of winter bird movements. Look for trends that indicate how well birds are faring in the face of environmental changes such as urbanization, global climate change, and disease. Grab your Audubon Guides Bird app and join all of us this weekend for the Great Backyard Bird Count. For more information visit

Top 10 Reported Birds in 2011

Kent McFarland (New England)

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