Children's Toy & Media Reviews Since 1978

Citizen Scientists and The Great Backyard Bird Count



An abstract of a bird in a tree


The Great Backyard Bird Count has been an annual event for the past eighteen years.  It is jointly sponsored by the National Audubon Society and Cornell University.  During a week in February, bird lovers of all ages and from around the world systematically count species in their own backyards.  They tally different types of birds using a check sheet then enter their reports online to create a comprehensive picture.  Amateur reporters are also known as citizen scientists.  Familiarity with species and practice using the tally sheet, ahead of time, help with accuracy.  Parents and children, together, will enjoy preparing for and participating in the next Great Backyard Bird Count.

One backyard birder in Atlanta, who regularly spreads birdseed and provides nest boxes, reported as many as fourteen different species during the 2016 backyard bird count, and her fenced-in backyard is 30’ x 100’.  The wide range of species in her backyard included such colorful birds as blue jays and bluebirds, goldfinches, cardinals and red-headed woodpeckers.  Iridescent grackles, brown thrashers, and red-tailed hawks were also recorded.

Birds of all shapes and sizes, are beautiful and fascinating to watch, particularly during spring when they nest and raise offspring.  They have melodious bird calls that dedicated birders memorize, and they display distinctive behaviors.  For example, cardinals in the Deep South forage in the early dawn and late dusk, before and after other bird species.  Such behaviors have evolved to minimize competition, occupy specialized niches, and enhance survival.

If you are inspired by The Great Backyard Bird Count, instructions can be found here. Enjoy watching, counting, and helping these magnificent creatures.  Backyard birding is a good intergenerational activity that is extremely worthwhile.

Birds can delight us in countless ways.  Try watching, for example, small wrens building nests.  Their twigs may be a bit large for a particular birdhouse entrance but they persist with their nesting material, approach the hole from all angles, and succeed in building compact nests.  Old nests can be removed from birdhouses, at winter’s end, to make space for new ones.  Male cardinals will turn their beaks and gently feed females during courtship.  Patient cardinal parents will even feed teenaged cardinals, long after they can feed themselves.  Pesky, fluttering adolescent food requests can be quite humorous.  There are many lessons to be learned in wild birds’ patience, persistence, and caring.

– Mary Hollowell, PhD

About the author: Mary Hollowell, the mother of two girls, is an associate professor of education at Clayton State University. She is a former science teacher and director of education at Cincinnati Museum Center.