The Great Backyard Bird Count
February 8, 2012 9:10 AM   Subscribe

Next weekend, February 17-20, is the 2012 Great Backyard Bird Count, sponsored by the National Audubon Society, the Cornell Lab for Ornithology, and Bird Studies Canada.

The Count has been an annual event since 1998. The information collected goes into Cornell's bird database, the Avian Knowledge Network, which holds 36 million records of bird observations.

The GBBC relies on volunteers across North America to help them collect information about bird populations. You can do a count in one place like your backyard, recording the number of species you see in a minimum of 15 minutes, or you can do a traveling count, recording the birds you see as you hike along a trail. If you're unfamiliar with bird identification, WhatBird is a pretty handy resource, as is Cornell's Bird Guide

In 2011, the most counted bird in America was the European Starling, an introduced species descended from 60 birds released in Central Park in 1890 by the American Acclimatization Society and an eccentric pharmacist named Eugene Schiefflin, who wanted to introduce all of the birds mentioned by Shakespeare to North America.

Citizen science bird counting isn't just for President's Day Weekend, either. Audubon has the 111-year-old Christmas Bird Count, Cornell and Bird Studies Canada have the winter-long Project FeederWatch, and eBird counts year-round.

If birds aren't your thing, Cornell has a list of other citizen science projects that need your help.

Birds previously on Metafilter: Audubon - Birds of America and This One's for the Birds.
posted by elsietheeel (17 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Backyard? I just look on my right shoulder.

posted by Splunge at 9:11 AM on February 8, 2012

This is great. I've enjoyed the sort of citizen reporting stuff since discovering the VT Herpatlas (since slightly renamed). This has been an interesting time to do brid counting since the weather is shifting it means that birds' habitats are shifting so people who have a bird book that is just 10-20 years old may find the habitat ranges completely useless. I've participated in the Christmas Bird Count for the past few years and it's not only a good excuse to stir your stumps but a great way to try to hone your identifying skills. Just the printable tally sheet on the Backyard Bird Count Page [the "What birds might I see in my zipcode in this month?"] is a great tool for novice birders.
posted by jessamyn at 9:21 AM on February 8, 2012

Birds we commonly see in or from our backyard: starlings (they nest in our eaves, the assholes); crows; ravens; Townsend's warblers; California towhees; Anna's hummingbirds; pigeons; hooded orioles (they nest next door - it's a little early yet for them, though); sharp-shinned hawks (eat our pigeons and starlings!); Cooper's hawks (eat our pigeons and starlings!); red-shouldered hawks (eat our pigeons and starlings!); redtails (eat our pigeons and starlings and rats!); Peregrine falcons (eat our pigeons and starlings!); bushtits; scrub jays; mockingbirds; gulls; killdeer (usually heard rather than seen as they fly by); red-headed conures; once, very early in the morning, a barn owl.

That's a pretty good list! I guess this year I should actually fill out the backyard bird count thing instead of just doing it in my head, like I usually do.
posted by rtha at 9:54 AM on February 8, 2012

Crows and sparrows, that's all I've got. What can I say, it's as cold as fuck here. The smart birds have moved on.

Although, I did see, a few weeks ago, two golden eagles as large as mid-sized dogs feasting on an antelope carcass by the highway.

posted by Fister Roboto at 10:14 AM on February 8, 2012

My prediction: Ninetyeleventeenillion frigging English Sparrows to descend like a plague of locusts; six Goldfinches to eat the nygier that the frigging sparrows couldn't get at because they're not that good at hanging upsidedown; two Cardinals to see if the frigging sparrows left any sunflower seeds this time.

Oh, and one Herodios Ardea to fill the feeders.

I would happily fund genetic research to locate a bacteria, virus, spore, or molecule fatally poisonous only to frigging English Sparrows.
posted by Herodios at 10:15 AM on February 8, 2012

And 2 weekends ago we had the equivalent here in the UK, The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch
posted by hardcode at 10:21 AM on February 8, 2012

Oh, that's neat. I was just thinking about this the other day. Off the top of my head, we have
blue ones, red ones, and even green ones! (I... don't know much about birds, can you tell?)

Oh, and grackles. Fucking grackles.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:32 AM on February 8, 2012

birds' habitats are shifting so people who have a bird book that is just 10-20 years old may find the habitat ranges completely useless.

True that. My Peterson's is wrong about half the time when it comes to our occasional visitors.

I'd like to confirm that I'm seeing Brewers Blackbirds, 'cuz they're not supposed to be this far east according to all the guides. We shouldn't be getting juncos and redpoles but we do all the time, in winter. Osprey were gone from here, but are apparently returning. Seen two.

I had a European Goldfinch in my yard summer before last. Called the local Natural History Museum, who said it must be an escaped caged bird. Unfortunately I lacked the presence of mind to get a photo and it never returned.

I have identified probably 60 species from either my backyard or the nearby park. But for bird count day, I stand by my prediction. I'll see maybe six species tops, but enough sparrow biomass to feed the neighborhood. Everyone else seem to come onesey twosey.
posted by Herodios at 10:53 AM on February 8, 2012

West Nile had a pretty big effect on bird populations as well. The giant mulberry tree in my yard was a magnet for yellow-billed magpies. The squawking was deafening. Then West Nile virus hit and my tree was empty and silent for many years. They estimate 50% of the total population died between 2004-6, but they're making a comeback.

I know the things are a special beastie because they only live in California's Central Valley, but I can't stand them.

And right now I could be doing the Great Backyard Squirrel Count--they're currently outnumbering the birds.
posted by elsietheeel at 11:06 AM on February 8, 2012

We spent a week in Nassau last month, and had the incredible pleasure of spotting a Smooth-billed Ani, several Coots (including 2 pairs of males fighting -- unfort. my hubby's camera battery had died so no pix or videos to be had. Boo!), a Mudhen, several Cormorants (which are pretty common in New England, but it was still cool to see them!), a Tri-colored heron, an osprey, a Great Egret, black-backed gulls, some kind of sandpiper which we didn't photo, so I can't identify now... Also a Rufous (I believe) hummingbird. It was 'way cool!!!
posted by DiMAndrews at 12:22 PM on February 8, 2012

Ooh, and it took almost twelve years in Texas, but I finally saw a roadrunner! They're HUGE. For some reason I had thought they were, like, songbird-sized.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:28 PM on February 8, 2012

Careful, restless_nomad: if he catches you, you're through.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:36 PM on February 8, 2012

Three days after Bird Count ended last year, we had a visit from ten trumpeter swans. I sent the invitation early; hopefully this year they show up on time, but the bastards never rsvp.
posted by notquitemaryann at 12:44 PM on February 8, 2012

A bunch of little brown birds.
A scrub jay or two.

My backyard feeder isn't exactly Grand Central.
posted by madajb at 1:07 PM on February 8, 2012

I have amazing cardinals living in my back yard. And in a few months a flock of robins will descend upon me so enormous that it always makes me think for a moment that the passenger pigeon has returned.
posted by padraigin at 1:43 PM on February 8, 2012

All I know is something is eating the seed in the feeder, and only the chickadees are small enough to get at it, so there must be at least a few of them around.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:46 PM on February 8, 2012

And right now I could be doing the Great Backyard Squirrel Count--they're currently outnumbering the birds.

This. I haven't seen a bird in my backyard for months, but the squirrels (and the occasional chipmunk, which I hadn't seen in YEARS but seem to be making a comeback over the last year or two) running across my back fence are driving my dog CRAZY.
posted by antifuse at 6:27 AM on February 28, 2012

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