Not sure how the Discovery Family Program works?
During the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), people from around the world count wild birds on the same weekend and then submit their data online for scientists to use in their research. The kid-friendly event is run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, plus other sponsors and international partners.
Whether you’re a sage expert or a first-time birder, you can help create a snapshot of avian populations and provide critical information for future conservation efforts just by reporting what you see and hear. Every observation you submit gives scientists more insight into research areas such as how birds are adapting to suburban sprawl, West Nile Virus, and climate change. It’s free, it’s fun, and it makes a difference.
So how do you participate?
Step 1: Make a Plan
You will need to have an account at the GBBC website, an eBird account, or have registered for another Cornell Lab citizen science project (such as FeederWatch or NestWatch), you can use your existing information to log into the database. If you haven’t participated in the last two years, creating a new account is easy. Once you’re set, download the mobile app from the eBird website. Participants who don’t have smartphones can use their computers to plug in data.
Next, decide where you're going to count and for how long you want to do it. You can devote as little as 15 minutes on a single day, or make a full weekend of it. And though you’re welcome to stick to your window or yard, you can count anywhere: your neighborhood, a local park, a rooftop, a national wildlife refuge or sanctuary, or a birding hotspot farther afield. You can also move between locations during the survey, so feel free to visit several different spots.
For extra fun, recruit a group to go out with you. Solo counts are still fun and challenging, but partners can provide levity and extra eyes to help identify elusive species or large flocks. The GBBC is also a great opportunity to introduce the fun of birding to someone new.
You may also want to study up ahead of time to get a sense of the birds you're likely to see. Most of the species you will encounter will be local and familiar. The GBBC website offers online guides and ID tips you can use to hone your skills. The free Audubon Bird Guide app will also be a handy resource. Other good apps to download are the free Merlin ID, which identifies birds from uploaded photos, or the new iPhone app Song Sleuth, which puts a name to a birdsong.
Step 2: Get Out There
Collecting and reporting data for the GBBC is straightforward: At each location, identify any species you see or hear, and tally up the numbers. You can also note any interesting behaviors. Create a checklist for each location and time; if you revisit a spot, start a new checklist. Remember to keep track of start and end times for each checklist, as well as distance traveled. The mobile app automatically tracks the time after you open a new checklist.
Be as accurate as possible, but don’t panic if your numbers aren't exact. Counting a large flock can be a challenge. Estimate when you have to. For example, if you tally only 20 birds, but it seems like there are twice that many, go with 40. (eBird has a helpful article on estimating flock sizes.) Snapping a photo of the scene can help you total up flocks later, so keep a camera on hand if possible. (Did we mention that there’s a photo contest?)
During the GBBC, rarity doesn't matter; the hundreds of House Sparrows count just as much as the more unusual species. But that doesn't mean that seeing a rare bird isn't part of the allure. Perhaps you will find a bird that's never been seen in your area, or record a historically high number of a particular species. Last year, counters in Philadelphia found the GBBC’s first-ever Barnacle Geese, which usually winter in Europe. And southwestern birders posted three tropical marvels: the White-throated Thrush, Clay-colored Thrush, and Rufous-backed Robin. Rare birds are exciting, but it's important to be cautious and rule out less exciting possibilities first. Carefully document any unusual sightings; it’s good practice, and can help with verification later on.
Remember to take your time. Approaching birds too quickly will scare some off. A little patience will keep them visible to you and minimize the stress for them, providing a better experience for all.
Step 3: Record Your Findings
Once you’ve seen some beautiful birds and collected valuable data, submit your observations and let the scientists take it from there. For those using the mobile app, it’s a simple matter of reviewing your checklists for accuracy, adding photos, and then hitting "submit." If you plan to record your data by hand, the process is almost as easy: just log in to the GBBC website, head to the "submit your observations" page, and then plug in your results and photos. The site guides you through each step, and allows you to share entries with your counting partners. Another option is to submit your tallies directly into eBird.
Step 4: Wait for the Results
Now comes the hard part: waiting for results. With data streaming in from all over the world (last year, participants from more than 130 countries submitted 162,052 checklists), it takes about two weeks to crunch the numbers. Once the wait is over, check out the GBBC or Audubon websites for the final results. There should be a few surprising stories and photo galleries to enjoy as well—and maybe even one from YOUR count.
GOAL: Develop an appreciation for nature and learn about different birds in the area.
THE ADVENTURE: Go bird watching as a family.
Give each child an opportunity to share their experience with the family, showing the pictures they gathered and what they learned. This will also help them practice their presentation skills.
Pour on the Praise!! Be sure to tell them privately how proud you are of the work they did to help with this international event and point out how it helps scientists with important work that could not be done in any other way.
Let them talk! Show interest in their experience and let them talk about it as much as they want to. The more they talk about it, the more enjoyed the experience. Re-enforce the good work they did by showing interest and enthusiasm for what they want to share about it.
It never hurts for a child to hear a parent bragging about them behind their back. Talk about the experience with extended family and friends and share with them the key strengths and positive things you noticed about each child's contribution. Whether they are in ear shot and hear it directly, or it comes to them through the grapevine, it will help them build confidence and pride in their participation.
You might want to encourage future participation by giving them their own pair of binoculars for their next birthday. This is especially nice if it was something they really enjoyed and express an interest in learning more.
You can also support their new interest by watching for bird watching classes or events in your community, or checking with the local nature center to see if they have classes or events where people can learn more about different types of birds.
See the event section for tools and apps that can be used year round.
Young Adventurers will love bird watching, but probably in their own way. They won't be ready for participating in the research, so follow their lead and just have fun . This could be GREAT cuddle time!
Community Engagement Adventure
Participate in a bird-watching event in your community. Can't find one? Host one of your own! Or you can participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). What is the GBBC? On the same weekend, people from around the world count wild birds and then submit their data online for scientists to use in their research. ❓So how do you participate? Start by making a plan.
Encourage teens to research the different types of birds they see