This will be the 19th such annual count of birds, a citizen science project that aims to find out just where the birds are and how they are doing in mid-winter. The count used to take place only in North America, but a couple of years ago, it went worldwide and now helps to track bird distribution all around the globe. There are participants on every continent - except perhaps Antarctica. And who knows? Maybe this year someone will chime in from there as well.
There is special interest this year because of the big El Niño event in the Pacific. It has disrupted weather patterns, heating up the ocean, and warming many areas that are normally cold at this time of year, and scientists are predicting that there may be a few surprises in store for the bird counters this year. They may find some species displaced from their normal wintering grounds and turning up in odd places.
Recently, for example, a Great Kiskadee, normally a resident of South Texas, showed up in South Dakota. Other unseasonal records have included an Orchard Oriole and a Chestnut-sided Warbler in the Northeast, much of which has had an unusually mild and snow-free winter up until now. It's a pretty safe bet that there will be other such reports this weekend.
The count is conducted over a four-day period, beginning Friday and ending Monday, President's Day. The event is held every year on the same weekend coinciding with President's Day. Participants observe and report birds from a specific site on any one or all of those four days. The site may be one's own backyard, which is where I do my counting, or it may be another selected and specified site including any public site such as a park, school campus, etc.
Citizen science projects like the Great Backyard Bird Count are providing important data that scientists rely upon to give them valuable information. It's a project that is open to all, regardless of the person's skill level. The observer can spend as little as fifteen minutes counting birds or can invest several hours over the entire weekend - you choose. Once the observations are made, you go online to the GBBC website (link in the first paragraph) and report what you saw. Easy peasy!
If you haven't participated in GBBC before, why not give it a try this year? I think you'll find it fun and you'll learn more about the birds in your area, which is always a good thing to do. It doesn't require any special tools - binoculars are helpful but not strictly necessary. Just go outside and look around. The birds are everywhere and they are waiting for you.
|Male House Finch, a typical winter visitor to my feeders.|