Thousands of bird enthusiasts, experts and first-time participants from the United States and Canada counted at least 8,279,491 birds of 574 species in their neighborhoods from Feb. 18 to 21 for the 14th annual Great Backyard Bird Count.
Throughout the four-day event — led by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the National Audubon Society and Bird Studies Canada — participants spent at least fifteen minutes on one day counting the number of each bird species they identified and submitting the results in checklists online.
They were then able to browse results from any province in North America online as additional counts were submitted and verified, submit photos of the birds they saw to the GBBC’s photo gallery and compare counts with results from previous years.
Collectively, this data makes up the “largest instantaneous snapshot of bird populations ever recorded,” according to the National Audebon Society. It allows scientists to study changes in bird population trends from year to year, said Delta Willis, Senior Communications Manager of the National Audubon Society.
According to the GBBC, this includes studying how the winter season affects populations of birds, as well as any changes in migratory timing, population decline of specific birds and biodiversity throughout the continent.
Though this year’s results are still incomplete because participants from the 2011 count are still submitting data, the event has been growing in popularity. In 2010, the GBBC reported record rates of participation as “birders turned in 97,200 checklists ... identified 602 species and counted 11.2 million individual birds.”
For the second consecutive year, the state of New York submitted the most checklists in North America. Citizens of Ithaca reported seeing 77 species of birds — the highest number within the state —with the Canvasback, Redhead and American Crow being the top three frequently sighted birds.
The event not only enables citizens to take part in scientific research but also encourages them to learn about local wildlife.
“It helps you recognize what birds you have in your own backyard or local park,” said Willis. “This is like a beginner’s citizen program for people who are discovering how to identify birds.”
Willis said the event also educates people about conservation measures they can implement at home.
“We encourage people to help birds by not using pesticides, not having glass windows that they can collide into, or keeping cats — which eat millions of birds every year — indoors,” Willis said.