Sixth Great Backyard Bird Count Begins in U.S.

Mel Baughman
for National Geographic News
February 13, 2003

The Sixth Annual Great Backyard Bird Count begins in the United States this weekend and volunteer "citizen scientists" are needed across the country.

What is the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) and who does the counting?

The GBBC is a joint effort of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society to determine the status of winter bird populations across the continent. The GBBC provides a "snapshot" of the number of individual birds and species present during the coldest winter days, the season of survival. It spans four days, February 14 through 17.

"We need every birder to join us," said Audubon Senior Vice President of Science Frank Gill. "The Great Backyard Bird Count has become a vitally important means of gathering data to help birds, but it can't happen unless people take part. Whether you're a novice or an expert, we need you to take part and help us help birds."

The object is to carefully and correctly tally the birds that come to your backyard, or a local park or other natural area of your choice. Birds may be counted in as many different areas you wish, but a separate checklist must be kept for each area and for each day. Participants may submit tallies for any one or all four of the count days.

Counters are encouraged to watch the birds in their chosen area for at least 15 minutes, but 30 minutes or longer will afford a better sense of the birds present, but be careful not to count the same bird over and over. The tally is kept by species and the highest number of individuals of each species seen is reported.

Who evaluates the GBBC data and what is its value?

Last year, Cornell Lab and Audubon scientists evaluated counts submitted by over 47,000 participants in the GBBC. The data collected is combined with Christmas Bird Count and Project Feeder Watch data providing a broader and more accurate picture of the winter bird population.

"When the last ivory-billed woodpecker was seen in the 1930s, there was no concrete way for citizens to help professional ornithologists monitor bird populations," said Cornell Lab of Ornithology director John Fitzpatrick, "We cannot allow other species to face the same fate as the ivory-bill. The Great Backyard Bird Count provides a way for citizens to help us determine which birds are where and in what numbers, so we can take steps to protect those that need protecting."

Counters are asked to be especially aware of species that appear on Audubon's WatchList Web site.

Birds on the Audubon WatchList are not listed as endangered or threatened, but are in decline and bear monitoring so action can be taken to maintain sustainable numbers.

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