The Great Backyard Bird Count 

By Rich Wolfert 
Skidaway Audubon 

Were you aware that many residents in The Landings already participate in one of the most popular hobbies in the United States? It’s not golf or tennis! Forty-five million Americans participate in “birding” (yes, that’s the proper term for it). That four-year-old number is likely higher now, especially because of our necessity to stay at home. That may seem to be a surprisingly large number, but more than 40 million of us spent four million days birding from home, and 16 million of us collectively spent more than 250,000 days birdwatching from places other than home. 

Research also indicates that 57 million of us feed wild birds in our gardens and backyards. With numbers like that, there should be a great deal of invaluable data available for researchers to better understand this aspect of nature, and the environment that makes it what it is. This leads to how birds, and the environment that sustains them, affects us. Interestingly, YOU can participate in collecting this information. It’s very easy and doesn’t require advanced skills or travel. You can do it from home, and many people do! 

The National Audubon Society has hosted the Great Backyard Bird Count for 23 years, this being year 24. It doesn’t require a significant amount of your time to participate. Just 15 minutes a day, for four days, is all that’s required, and you can spend more time if you so wish. Observe for, at least, the minimum time, and then enter the data for scientists onto a free app that some of you already have…eBird. Please know that a beginner’s sightings and data are just as valuable as those from experts. 

The rules are short and simple. Over a consecutive four-day period, preferably February 12-15, spend just 15 minutes a day (minimum) observing birds at your feeder, in your yard, or around your house (even above your home in the case of hawks, eagles, and vultures). What area do you use for YOUR observations? Some limit sightings to their physical backyards. I consider anything I can see from my home, even if it’s 100 yards away, or 100 yards up. The key is to be consistent and use the same criteria on all four days. 

To help beginners with identification, the free Merlin Bird ID app will help you identify what you may not recognize. Even experienced birders have this app on their phone. Record all the species that you see, and the number of each species (an approximate guess is good if you aren’t certain of an exact number or if there are a great many birds). Enter the data (for collection) on the eBird app from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It’s available for your phone and on your computer, and it is free. The phone version of eBird is available from your App Store. This app can be used any time of the year and not just for the Great Backyard Bird Count. I use this app daily to provide a snapshot into the birds in and around my property. 

Your observations are added to a huge global database and helps scientists better understand such things as the distribution of bird species, how their numbers have increased or decreased, changes in their behavior, feeding habits, breeding success, how weather and climate change affects them, etc. This helps alert scientists to environmental issues that can impact people, including you and me. It helps us understand what changes to strategies to improve the environment may be required, and where to attack issues that affect us. Our health may be directly impacted by the data gleaned from these observations. You, in your own personal spot for watching birds, are a citizen scientist, contributing to the cumulative information that can help us all. It’s a great activity and a worthwhile diversion, and you can be a contributing part of it. 

To learn more, here are some informative resources: 

Below are photos of a few of the many bird species that you may see in The Landings. A beginner may be able to identify perhaps a dozen species in your chosen area. Don’t let yourself become frustrated. Know that your species mix may vary depending on whether you are near woods in your viewing area, a lagoon or larger water source, or a combination of environments. Many birders recommend (among other choices) the Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America. Warning: This hobby is wonderfully addictive! We hope that when the pandemic is over, that we hold occasional walks to observe and learn about birds.