The Great Backyard Bird Count, February 16 to 19

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On a walk through the woods, or on a backyard tree, you might see rows of shallow holes in tree bark. This is often the work of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, an enterprising woodpecker that laps up the leaking sap and any trapped insects with its specialized, brush-tipped tongue. (Photo: Richard Simms)

The 21st Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) will take place this weekend (February 16 to 19) – in backyards, parks, nature centers, on hiking trails, school grounds, balconies, and beaches. This global event provides an opportunity for bird enthusiasts to contribute important bird population data that help scientists see changes over the past 21 years. To participate, bird watchers count the birds they see for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count, and then enter their checklists at birdcount.org.

Several canvasbacks have been sighted on Chickamauga Lake in recent days as waterfowl begin their migrations back to northern nesting areas. (Photo: USFWS)

“The 2018 GBBC again promises to provide an important snapshot of bird occurrence in February,” says the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Marshall Iliff, a leader of the eBird program. “Some stories to watch in North America are mountain birds moving into lowland valleys and east to the Great Plains, crossbills on the move across much of the continent, and many eastern birds responding to extremes as the winter temperatures have oscillated between unseasonably warm and exceptionally cold.”

eBird collects bird observations globally every day of the year and is the online platform used by the GBBC.

“The Great Backyard Bird Count is a great way to introduce people to participation in community science,” says Dr. Gary Langham (@GaryLangham), vice president and chief scientist for the National Audubon Society. “No other program allows volunteers to take an instantaneous snapshot of global bird populations that can contribute to our understanding of how a changing climate is affecting birds.”

Tens of thousands of sandhill cranes spend the winter in Southeast Tennessee. Like waterfowl they will soon begin migrating back north to their nesting grounds. (Photo: Richard Simms)

In 1998, during the first GBBC, bird watchers submitted about 13,500 checklists from the United States and Canada. Fast-forward to the most recent event in 2017. Over the four days of the count, an estimated 240,418 bird watchers from more than 100 countries submitted 181,606 bird checklists reporting 6,259 species–more than half the known bird species in the world.

“Will we break last year’s record number of Canadian participants?” asks Jon McCracken, Bird Studies Canada’s National Program Director. “A lot depends on the weather, but a little snow and cold shouldn’t get in your way. Remember that you don’t have to venture far afield at all. You truly can count birds right in your own backyard or, better yet, take a pleasant winter stroll around your neighborhood.”

It won’t be long before visitors to the Tennessee Riverwalk in Chattanooga will begin seeing the annual influx of tree swallows. The beautiful iridescent steely blue birds use acrobatic twists and turns to capture insects. (Photo: Richard Simms)

To learn more about what scientists discovered the past 21 years and how to take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, visit birdcount.org. The Great Backyard Bird Count is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society with partner Bird Studies Canada and is made possible in part by founding sponsor Wild Birds Unlimited.

The 21st GBBC is additionally notable because it is the February call-to-action for the Year of the Bird, a 12-month celebration of birds to raise awareness of how people can help birds by taking simple actions each month. The Year of the Bird is led by National Geographic, the National Audubon Society, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, BirdLife International, and more than 100 participating organizations. Learn more about Year of the Bird at www.birdyourworld.org.

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