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Calling Citizen Scientists! The Annual Great Backyard Bird Count Needs You

people looking through binoculars

Across the world, Ornithologists conduct research on over ten thousand known species of birds. But because birds are constantly moving around huge areas, how can scientists track them accurately? That’s where you – a Citizen Scientist- come in.

Every February, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Audubon Society, and Bird Studies in Canada sponsor the Great Backyard Bird Count. From February 14- 17, 2014 people from all around the world will submit lists of birds they have sighted in their communities to be used in research by all kinds of scientists. All you have to do to get involved is make an account on the Great Backyard Bird Count website and then count birds for at least 15 minutes.

While they do have the word “backyard” in the title, you aren’t limited to just looking on your own property. Parks, nature trails, and any other location where birds are present will work great. You can count on your own, or join other Citizen Scientists at sites such as Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden (LGBG) in Richmond. LGBG has set up special feeding stations, bird maps, and other resources for families to come out and count birds during this annual event. Powhatan State Park will also being hosting a count as well and is pleased to introduce you to a rare resident--a leucistic red-tailed hawk.

So what is all the fuss about? Why is this Citizen Science project important? The Great Backyard Bird Count helps scientists study various research topics including migration patterns of birds, weather patterns and their effects, bird diseases, and diversity of regional species. Due to birds having such a wide range of habitat and being in constant motion, it is impossible for scientists to know the relative location of types of birds at a certain moment in time. Data is compiled after the bird count and is available to Ornithologists in laboratories all over the world.

When asked about the importance of the project,Mary Elfner, The Director of the Virginia Audubon Council said “We need to support Citizen Science projects and balance out how we spend our time in an increasing technological world. So, during the weekend of February 14-17, go outside and look and listen for birds, then enter your data into the GBBC website. If we can spend more time outside, I maintain that we will be more healthy and balanced. And remember to take your children with you. It’s important for our quality of life and for the future of our environment.”

For participation tips go to the Great Backyard Bird Count website and check out their maps for birding hot spots and bird identification guides and tips.

And watch this Science Matters “How to” video to learn more.

Mark your calendar and make your online account for the Great Backyard Bird Count February 14!

Want to learn about more Citizen Science Projects all over the world? Check out SciStarter, a fantastic website where you can discover and contribute to science research projects through fun recreational activities. They have over 600 citizen science projects listed. Check it out and get involved.

Article by: Margaret Carmel, an intern here at Science Matters. Margaret is a Virginia Commonwealth University student studying Broadcast Journalism, Middle Eastern Studies, International Social Justice, and Global Education. While she’s not studying science in school, she has always loved the subject and is thrilled to share her interest with our readers.

Science Matters' Radio Report (audio) By: John Ogle, 88.9 WCVE