Join Citizen Scientists in Creating a Real-Time Snapshot of Birds in Winter

By Kimberly Mason
For The Chronicle

The 2012 GBBC will take place Friday, Feb. 17, through Monday, Feb. 20.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual four-day event that engages bird watchers of all ages and skill levels in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the continent.

Anyone can participate, from beginning bird watchers to experts. It takes as little as 15 minutes on one day, or you can count for as long as you like each day of the event. It’s free, fun, and easy—and it helps the birds.

Local Participants

Last year over 42 local Lewis County residents submitted GBBC lists, a huge jump in numbers from the previous year where only a dozen or so birders submitted their lists.

Winlock submitted the highest number of lists, counting twelve participants, just edging out Chehalis and Centralia.

Chehalis bird counters tallied the largest number of species, counting 32.

Adna, Napavine, Tenino and Cinebar residents also participated in the GBBC. You can look for local results at the GBBC website at


How GBBC Works

Participants count birds anywhere for as little or as long as they wish during the four-day period. They tally the highest number of birds of each species seen together at any one time. To report their counts, they fill out an online checklist at the Great Backyard Bird Count website.

As the count progresses, anyone with Internet access can explore what is being reported from their own towns or anywhere in the United States and Canada. They can also see how this year’s numbers compare with those from previous years. Participants may also send in photographs of the birds they see. A selection of images is posted in the online photo gallery at the GBBC website.

Last year, participants submitted more than 92,000 checklists with more than 11 million bird observations.

“This is a very detailed snapshot of continental bird distribution,” said John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “Imagine scientists 250 years from now being able to compare these data with their own. Already, with more than a decade of data in hand, the GBBC has documented changes in late-winter bird distributions.”


Why Count Birds?

Scientists and bird enthusiasts can learn a lot by knowing where the birds are.

To make sure the birds from our community are well represented in the count, we need your help. It doesn’t matter whether you report the 5 species coming to your backyard feeder, the 20 species you see on a walk around Chehalis or Centralia parks, or the 75 species you see on an outing to a wildlife refuge.

The GBBC can helps scientists explore and answer many questions:

• How will this winter’s snow and cold temperatures influence bird populations?

• Where are winter finches and other “irruptive” species that appear in large numbers during some years but not others?

• How will the timing of birds’ migrations compare with past years?

• How are bird diseases, such as West Nile virus, affecting birds in different regions?

• What kinds of differences in bird diversity are apparent in cities versus suburban, rural, and natural areas?

• Are any birds undergoing worrisome declines that point to the need for conservation attention?


Kimberly Mason is a freelance writer based in Cinebar. She can be contacted at


Participating: as Easy as 1, 2, 3

1. Plan to count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count, from Friday, Feb. 17 to Monday, Feb. 20. Count birds in as many places and on as many days as you like—one day, two days, or all four days. Submit a separate checklist for each new day. You can also submit more than one checklist per day if you count in other locations on that day.

2. Count the greatest number of individuals of each species that you see together at any one time. You may find it helpful to print out your regional bird checklist ( to get an idea of the kinds of birds you’re likely to see in your area in February.

3. When you’re finished, enter your results through the GBBC web page ( You’ll see a button marked “Enter Your Checklists!” on the website home page beginning on the first day of the count. It will remain active until the deadline for data submission.

Special Note: As the Great Backyard Bird Count has grown, more and more bird clubs, nature centers, and local parks are conducting special bird walks or hikes during the GBBC and having participants enter their tallies afterward. How you conduct a traveling count versus a stationary count is slightly different although you will enter your online tallies the same way.

Stationary Count: This is a count made in one area, such as your backyard, where you remain in one place. In this case, simply report the highest number of each species seen together at one time, as usual.

Traveling Count: This is a count made over a distance, such as birding on a trail. In this case you will count new birds of each species as you move along, but only if you can be relatively certain you did not count them previously. You’ll add the numbers for each species at the end of your walk.