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February 13, 2016 / Leslie

2016 Great Backyard Bird Count

The annual Great Backyard Bird Count has begun. Counting takes place this weekend, February 12 – 15. The event was started in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society. It was the first online citizen-science project to collect data on wild birds and to display results in near real-time.

The Northern Cardinal, above, is a frequent visitor to my backyard. I always have a supply of sunflower and safflower seeds in my feeders; a favorite food for cardinals, and many other song birds.

Citizen Scientists Needed

The Backyard Bird Count is an opportunity for citizen scientists around the world to help researchers by spending a few minutes counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are. It’s as easy as looking out your window for 15 minutes or going for a walk at a local park.

People of all ages and skill levels can participate. You do not need to be an expert to contribute. Even if you can only identify the common birds, you can still take part in the count.

How to participate

Red-breasted Nuthatch

The Red-breasted Nuthatch on the right is enjoying my backyard peanut feeder. They are occasional winter visitors to the Chicago area, but usually spend their winters further north.

Red-breasted Nuthatches are irruptive migrants and will only leave their usual range when their food supply becomes scarce. They have not visited my yard this winter and sightings in the area have been infrequent. These are the type of trends that scientists are evaluating.

Why Count in February?

You might be wondering why a bird count that originated in North America is held in the coldest month of the year. The reason was to create a snapshot of the distribution of birds just before spring migrations begin in March. Several years ago a change was made and the count went global, creating snapshots of birds wherever they are in February regardless of seasons across the hemispheres.

You Never Know Who Might Show Up

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

On February 2, 2011, Chicago had one of its epic snowstorms that shut down the city for a few days. The morning after the storm a Yellow-rumped Warbler was outside my window taking a drink at the heated bath. Chicago is on the northern edge of their winter range; most warblers migrate much further south.

Unfortunately, I was unable to include him in my Backyard Birdcount observations. The count dates were still several weeks away and by then the bird had moved on. However, a visit from a warbler in the middle of winter was still a special treat.

Where to find birds

Your backyard, at a local park or wildlife refuge, or wherever you like to watch birds.

I count in several places. The easiest is my backyard where I have several feeders and a regular crowd of birds. I can always count on cardinals, finches, woodpeckers and sparrows to stop by for a meal. I also count on the trails at the park and the forest preserve, weather permitting. With the cold temperatures we are having this weekend, I am counting in my backyard where I can look out the window and not freeze.

Canada Geese on DuPage River

If the weather was nicer, and windchills were not below zero degrees F, I would be walking at the forest preserve. Canada Geese are now year-round residents in the Chicago area. They can often be found along rivers or roosting in large fields (making a mess!).

There’s Still Time to Participate

Head on over to the GBBC start-up page and join in.


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Leave a Comment
  1. Beth Hoffman / Feb 13 2016 1:50 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing this, Leslie. I haven’t seen a Yellow-rumped Warbler in years.


    • Leslie / Feb 13 2016 1:52 pm

      I see them every year during migration, but it’s rare to find one toughing out the winter here.


  2. Suko / Feb 13 2016 5:45 pm

    What a beautiful post! The photos are very lovely. Leslie, I am glad that you are involved with this.


  3. WordsAndPeace / Feb 21 2016 8:05 pm

    Hey, what are they doing at Churchill Woods?? Cleaning? that looks quite radical!
    Also: are you going to BEA as it’s in Chicago this year?


    • Leslie / Feb 21 2016 9:43 pm

      They do burns every year to clear leaf litter and invasive species, but this year they are doing some additional restoration. I’m the bird monitor for that area so it will be interesting to see what changes it brings to the bird population.

      Yes to BEA. I haven’t signed up yet but I am planning on going.


      • WordsAndPeace / Feb 21 2016 10:35 pm

        thanks for the information on he Woods. Yes, I was thinking about the effects on birds!
        Yeah! will finally get to meet you!

        Liked by 1 person

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