Julia Nagel/Sun Photography Editor

People participating in this year's Great Backyard Bird Count, sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, will spend at least 15 minutes this weekend birdwatching.

February 15, 2023

Lab of Ornithology’s 2023 Great Backyard Bird Count Takes Flight

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The Cornell Lab of Ornithology launched the 2023 Great Backyard Bird Count in a virtual event on Wednesday afternoon. Hosted on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology YouTube channel, the webinar was attended by over 2,700 bird lovers from around the world.

Running from Feb. 17 to Feb. 20, this year’s GBBC encourages participants from around the globe to birdwatch for at least 15 minutes this weekend. Participants can birdwatch from anywhere — a nearby park, their backyard or simply outside their window — counting and identifying any birds that they see or hear.

“The thing to decide is where you can go and give your best counts when you’re there. Where can you be comfortable and do your best job?” said Chad Witko, senior coordinator at National Audubon Society. “That’s really the best place for you to be.” 

For new birders, identifying unfamiliar species may seem daunting. However, GBBC encourages everyone to join in, offering a wealth of information to help get new birders on their feet — from location-based checklists of likely bird sightings to apps that suggest potential species from photos and sound recordings.

“[The GBBC] is one of the best entry-level programs to get people into birding,” said Jody Allair, director of community engagement at Birds Canada. “The data’s great for sure …but really, [the GBBC] is a great excuse to get outside and count and ID things.”

Participants will compile and submit checklists through eBird, an online database managed by the Lab of Ornithology. The database is the world’s largest biodiversity-related citizen science project, collecting worldwide data on bird species, number and location. 

Using eBird data, ornithologists have tracked bird distribution, abundance, habitat use and more. This information has been applied to research and conservation planning projects across the globe.

“The data is used to answer different research questions, and it’s pooled together to come up with trend analysis,” said Kerrie Wilcox, manager of Project FeederWatch with Birds Canada.

Since its founding in 1988, GBBC has grown exponentially. In 2009, Birds Canada joined GBBC to support greater citizen science participation in Canada, and the program went global in 2013. Last year, over 350,000 participants representing 192 countries submitted checklists.

“One of the reasons that GBBC really took off is that we’ve always viewed it as a festival or a celebration of birds and a reason for people to come together,” said Ashwin Viswanathan of Bird Count India.

To conclude the webinar, Chelsea Benson, public programs coordinator at the Lab of Ornithology, echoed GBBC’s message that everyone should participate.

“It doesn’t matter if you have the technology or the binoculars,” Benson said. “It’s just about getting together and learning about birds.”