Personal Story

My First Great Backyard Bird Count, Part 1: Registration

Debbie Blicher is Senior Producer of Talkin’ Birds.

I know what you’re thinking. “You’re Senior Producer of Talkin’ Birds and you’re only NOW doing a Great Backyard Bird Count?”

Um…yeah. But in my defense, I’ve been a little busy, okay?! You have no idea what it’s like to work with—um, never mind. (Sorry, Ray!)

But seriously: I had three very good reasons for not doing the GBBG until now—and maybe you have the same ones. First, I didn’t know what it was. Second, I didn’t know when or how to register for it. And third, I thought I wasn’t skilled enough to participate. The good news is that I did it anyway, and I had so much fun that I’m going to give you the resources to do it with me next year.

So—here were my first three questions about the Great Backyard Bird Count, plus the answers.

1. What is it, again?

The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is a citizen science project under the auspices of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Each February since 1988, people all over the world have counted bird species coming to their feeders and reported their findings. These days, more than 160,000 people participate in the project, most of whom enter their data online. Together, we create an annual snapshot of species distribution.

Here’s Ray discussing the GBBC with NPR’s Scott Simon on Weekend Edition Saturday, February 16, 2019.

You can read more about the GBBC here, on the official website.

2. When and how do you register?

You can register any time, even during the GBBC. However, I recommend that you register in early January because it takes a few weeks for the materials to arrive in the mail. Register here, at the GBBC website. Bonus: Once you register, you keep your registration number from year to year. You still have to sign up for each year’s count, but your number stays the same. Me, I like to be efficient with my time, so I’d rather forget a number once than have to forget a new number every year.

3. How skilled do you have to be?

Excuse me while I laugh my head off.

(whew) All set. Honestly, if I can do it, so can you. I’m okay identifying my neighborhood birds, but I need help with many others. The packet from Cornell comes with a poster of common feeder birds; one side with eastern species, one with western. I used the poster plus Cornell’s smartphone app, Merlin Bird ID. So—you know that nightmare we all have about taking a final exam when you haven’t studied? (Or doing a radio interview when you don’t know what you’re talking about? Right, Ray?? ) It’s not like that at all.

I’ll write again soon about how to do the actual count and upload the data. For now, why not go to the GBBC website and register for next year?