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Great Backyard Bird Count Feb. 12-15: Contribute to Research, Have Fun at Home

By Jessica Isaacs | jessica@highcountrypress.com

Are you looking for a relaxing way to spend this Valentine’s Day weekend? Join the 19th annual Great Backyard Bird Count to learn something new, contribute to important research and enjoy the beauty of nature with all the comforts of home.

This interactive citizen science experience will guide you through watching and counting the birds you see in your own backyard. You and other participating birdwatchers will go online to birdcount.org anytime between Friday and Monday, Feb. 12-15, to record the number of birds you see.

BIRD COUNT: Tufted Titmouse. Garth McElroy/VIREO, Audubon.org.
Tufted Titmouse. Garth McElroy/VIREO, Audubon.org.

Only 15 minutes of bird watching will be required to participate, but you may find yourself spending hours at a time learning more and more about the fascinating creatures before you.

The information you collect will help the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society conduct important studies to better understand how birds are affected by climate change.

Great Backyard Bird Count

The High Country’s resident bird watching expert, Edi Crosby, owner of WingN It bird store in Banner Elk, said there’s nothing quite like the up-close-and-personal experience of watching these beautiful animals in your own yard.

“The beauty of nature is right there at your doorstep,” said Crosby. “Not many other kinds of wildlife will get that close to you and let you watch them like birds do.”

Audubon reports that people from more than 100 countries participated in last year’s count, documenting more than 5,000 species — nearly half the possible bird species in the world — on more than 147,000 bird checklists.

It’s free, it’s easy and it’s fun! It’s also a perfect time of year for bird watching, Crosby said.

BIRD COUNT: Dark-eyed Junco. Bob Steele/VIREO, Audubon.org.
Dark-eyed Junco. Bob Steele/VIREO, Audubon.org.

“As soon as we have cold weather, you’re going to see more birds at your feeder because there’s nothing else out there they can eat with snow on the ground,” Crosby said. “With the snow we have right now, the count is going to be fascinating this time because they’re all going to be out.”

As long as you have your feeders full, Crosby said you’re sure to see a lot of birds this weekend, and you’ll see even more if you have a heated water source nearby.

“In the wintertime, when it’s so cold outside, they will come to bathe in a heated birdbath,” she explained. “When their feathers get wet, it seals down their body and holds the heat inside.”

Whether you’re a veteran birdwatcher or you’re just getting started, it’s hard to beat participating in a nationwide event without ever leaving your home.

“You don’t have to do it in a group and you can do it in the pleasure of your own home. If you have your own feeder, you can do watch them in your PJ’s if you want to,” Crosby said. “People are going to want to be outside right now, so it’s a matter of bringing them right to your door — being able to enjoy it and then get on your computer to count and interact. You can do it any time of day at your convenience — count for an hour, come back later, do 20 more minutes, whatever you like.”

BIRD COUNT: American Goldfinch. Gerard Bailey/VIREO, Audubon.org.
American Goldfinch. Gerard Bailey/VIREO, Audubon.org.

As long as you put out your feeders and a heated water source, Crosby said you’re bound to see the most birds you’ve ever seen at your home this weekend.

“They’re going to see a lot of Goldfinches, even though they might not recognize them as much because both the females and the males turn a brownish color this time of year,” said Crosby. “They’re going to see Titmice, Nuthatches and male and female Cardinals.

“There will also be a ton of Juncos. I like to call them tuxedo birds because they look black with little white chests. When you feed them by your house and you go outside, you’ll see their little footprints all over the snow. Everything will have those little footprints — its hysterical.”

Ready to get started? Here’s what to do.

Step 1: Sign up.

Go online to birdcount.org, create an account with the Cornell Lab and register to participate in the GBBC.

Step 2: Put out and fill your feeders.

Crosby recommends using black oil sunflower seeds, which are affordable, good for attracting a variety of birds and gives the birds energy to help fight the cold. Need to buy a feeder? Stop by WingN It and she’ll help you pick one out.

Step 3: Put out a heated water source.

Purchase a heated birdbath from your local bird store or put a heating unit in a birdbath you already have. Keep your birdbath off the ground, maybe on a railing, and keep it near the feeder. You can buy one of these at WingN It, too.

Step 4: Watch, count and enjoy.

Enter your zip code here at birdcount.org and they’ll give you a list of species to watch for in your area. Click here for a PDF with more details. You can also add photos to your checklist as you go along.

Stay tuned to birdcount.org for real time maps and information on what other bird watchers around the country are reporting. Cool, right?

You can even follow these online guides to help identify tricky species as you observe.

Step 5: Report.

Submit your observations via birdcount.org or the eBird mobile app on your smartphone or tablet.

There you have it! It’s that simple to take part in important research about the natural world, and we guarantee you’ll have a great time in the process.

In the meantime, check out Audubon for more information on the bird count and stop by WingN It to stock up on feeders, seed and heated birdbaths.

Happy birding, folks!


Northern Cardinal. Glenn Bartley/VIREO, Audubon.org.