On the morning of Friday, February 17, I will wake up before work, pour myself a cup of coffee, and stare out my window for 15 minutes. As long as I submit my observations to the Great Backyard Bird Count, my 15 minutes of zone-out time before I jump in the shower will qualify as productive science.
The Great Backyard Bird Count runs from Friday the 17th through Monday the 20th, and it’s as easy as using a few pajama moments to participate.
Wherever you are, simply stop in your tracks and take a look around for birds. You can in your backyard, outside of the your local cafe, at the playground, or around your driveway — anywhere! Anyone can participate, and the coolest part is that even a report of a single robin matters more than usual, because people across the world will be observing and reporting all at once. In 2011 alone, this huge concerted effort yielded 1,044,346 robins alone!
The data are collected by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, The National Audubon Society, and Bird Studies Canada, and are used to gauge how birds have fared over the winter. With the help of citizen scientists everywhere, researchers get a widespread snapshot of bird abundance and distribution right before migration heats up.
For me, the Great Backyard Bird Count marks the beginning of the end of winter and the revving of my hopes for new migrants returning from the south. February can seem dark and endless in the northern hemisphere, but the sun is slowly stealing time from the night, early nesters are setting up shop, and I even consider bringing my binoculars to walk home with in the evening. I might actually be able to see something.
Events abound throughout the Great Backyard Bird Count, making it a great opportunity to shake off the winter doldrums and visit your local green spaces. In Philadelphia, I’ll start in my actual backyard, but I will also travel to my extended backyard at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge and spend time with the PA Young Birders Club.
Whether in your jammies and snug at the window or learning the ropes with naturalists at a refuge, every bird counts. For help with bird identification and access to data submission forms, videos, pictures, and prize information (yes, there are prizes!), visit the project website.