By Emma Castleberry
February is a big month for citizen scientists and bird lovers. The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) begins on Friday, February 16. The global event is simple: participants watch birds for at least 15 minutes, at least once over a four-day period through February 19. They identify and count as many birds as they can see or hear, then submit the information via eBird or Merlin. For those new to birding, the Merlin Bird ID tool can help with identification. Both Merlin and eBird are free and easy to use, with detailed instructions on the Great Backyard Bird Count website.
Leslie MacDuffie, an employee at Wild Birds Unlimited North Asheville, has been participating in the GBBC since 2013. “I have been bird watching pretty much every day since,” says MacDuffie. “It sparked a curiosity of how many more birds I could attract to my own backyard. The project goal is to invite people to spend time anywhere watching and counting as many birds as they can find, then reporting their observations. The global observations create a real-time snapshot of bird populations. This helps researchers from The Cornell Lab, Audubon and Birds Canada learn more about how birds are doing and how to protect them.”
The data gathered over this four-day period is crucial in helping scientists better understand global bird populations in advance of an annual migration. The Great Backyard Bird Count was launched in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society. At the time, it was one of the first online citizen science projects that collected data on wild birds. Birds Canada joined in 2009 and then in 2013 the event became global by partnering with eBird, which allows participants to submit information from anywhere across the globe.
In 2023, more than 250 regions participated in the count, observing 7,730 different bird species. The country of Colombia topped the list with 1,334 species logged. In the US, 674 species were observed, with North Carolina logging 224 different species (96 in Buncombe County). The Great Backyard Bird Count provides detailed information about which species were observed, where they were seen and how many times they were logged.
Learn more about the event and how to participate at BirdCount.org. The Blue Ridge Audubon Society will host a birding event during the count on Saturday, February 17, at 9 a.m. at The Park at Flat Rock, 55 Highland Golf Drive, Flat Rock. Learn more about regional events at BlueRidgeAudubon.org.