For the Birds Radio Program: The Great Backyard Bird Count, 2004

Original Air Date: Feb. 10, 2004

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology sponsors a fun and valuable bird count every February. (Date confirmed)

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Great Backyard Bird Count

I belong to a great many ornithological and bird watching organizations, but one of my all-time favorites is the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. Cornell somehow manages the wonderful balancing act of focusing on hard-nosed science and popular birdwatching activities at the same time. Their magazine, The Living Bird, and their newsletter both provide plenty of good reading, both entertaining and fascinating. Their webpage provides information of interest to people new to birds and to research ornithologists both.

Every year in February, Cornell sponsors what they call The Great Backyard Bird Count. This project was developed to help monitor the abundance and distribution of birds in late winter, helping researchers spot alarming trends before situations become critical. As we see rapid changes in our environment, like the spread of West Nile virus and shifts in species’ ranges, bird monitoring projects such as the Great Backyard Bird Count become increasingly important. Tens of thousands of people have participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count in past years. In 2003, data from this count verified the serious decline of crows in Illinois and Ohio, two states that were particularly hard hit by West Nile Virus. This and other Cornell projects have closely tracked the spread of avian conjunctivitis in House Finches and the decline of Evening Grosbeaks.

This year, families, individuals, school children, community groups, and everyone else with an interest in birds are being asked to count the numbers and kinds of birds they see in their yard from Friday, February 13 through Monday, February16. The event will create a continent-wide “snapshot” of which bird species are where and in what numbers–information critical to monitoring the health of their populations.

Participants keep track of the birds they see on any or all of the count days, then log their sightings into a database on the Internet. Because the event is Internet-based, researchers and participants alike can see which birds are being reported where, all across the continent. “The near-instant availability of results allows participants to see quickly how their reports contribute to the continent-wide perspective,” says John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and brother of KUMD’s own Phil Fitzpatrick.

If you’re interested in participating in this wonderful annual event, go to the Great Backyard Bird Count website at–if that’s too tricky to remember, my own website,, has a link right at the top. Although the Great Backyard Bird Count is internet based, I can type in the results for at least a few listeners who don’t have internet access if you mail or call your results to me early next week. Just keep a careful count of each species you see in your yard, and how many of each are present. It’s fun to do, and the information you can provide will be very helpful. As John Fitzpatrick said, “It’s extremely satisfying to see that your observation is significant. These individual observations are critical to building a broadscale database of North American bird populations, and the GBBC is the only count that provides a late-winter perspective.”