The Great Backyard Bird Count begins today

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Looking for something fun to do this weekend? Why not join thousands of people from around the world in the 2017 Great Backyard Bird Count?

Wading birds photographed at the Virginia National Wildlife Refuge. Image Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Love wildlife? Check. Love science? Check. Then you will definitely love the Great Backyard Bird Count. This popular citizen science event will run from February 17–20, 2017. It’s free, and it’s easy to participate.

During the Great Backyard Bird Count, people from all over the world spend time counting the types and numbers of birds that they see from a location of their choice, such as their backyard or a local park. Scientists then use the data that are collected to help them better understand the health of bird populations.

Participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count involves three easy steps.

To participte, first, register with your name on the event’s website. Registration is free. This website has a ton of useful information about birds and the upcoming bird count.

Second, spend some time counting birds on the weekend of the event. The minimum amount of time required is 15 minutes, but you can count for longer if you wish. During your count, simply record the start and end time, location, and number and types of birds that you see. You can perform counts in multiple locations too, just be sure to submit separate checklists for each location.

Not to worry if you can’t identify the birds you see at first. Just take good notes about their prominent features, for example, size, shape, color, and unusual markings, or you can try to snap a close-up picture. Then, you can use a bird guide to look them up later. All About Birds and What Bird are two good online bird identification guides that are free and easy to use. Additionally, the free Merlin Bird ID App can be downloaded to your smartphone and used offline. Merlin will ask you five simple questions about the bird you are trying to identify and suggest matches for you—you can even upload a picture to Merlin and let the app try to identify it.

The third and last step involves uploading your data to the event’s website. This steps usually only takes a few minutes to complete. While you’re visiting the website, check out the live map that displays dots in the various locations where people have uploaded a checklist. It’s fun to watch the data pour in from all over the world.

Register to participate in the 2017 Great Backyard Bird Count

Dark-eyed junco photographed by Great Backyard Bird Count participant Sue Barth.

As an added bonus, there is a photo contest for those who want to submit pictures of the birds that they see during the event. You can even submit photos of yourself watching the birds. Hence, don’t forget your binoculars. If you do shoot some good photos, please share them with EarthSky too. We love birding photos!

Use the hashtag #GBBC to follow Great Backyard Bird Count conversations on Twitter and Facebook.

The first annual Great Backyard Bird Count was held 1998, and the event has continued to grow year after year. In 2016, 162,052 checklists were submitted by people from more than 100 different countries and 5,689 species were spotted—that is about half of all of the known bird species on Earth. Hopefully, 2017 will be another record breaker.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Audubon Society, and Bird Studies Canada.

Bottom line: The annual Great Backyard Bird Count runs from February 17–20, 2017. This popular citizen science project helps scientists keep track of the health of bird populations. Participating is free and easy, so why not give it a try.

Register to participate in the 2017 Great Backyard Bird Count