Karen Lanier
November 6, 2017

Observant gardeners and farmers already have a keen eye for changes in the landscape, so it’s not much of a stretch for us to also closely watch the sky. Farms—rural and urban—play a major role in providing winter bird habitat. During migration in the fall, numbers and varieties of birds will increase as they move along corridors to find adequate shelter for the cold months. From hummingbirds to herons, keeping track of your property’s wild birds adds to global understanding of migration patterns.

What Is Citizen Science?

Governmental and nongovernmental organizations are now trying more than ever to collaborate and share information freely. Volunteers who are not necessarily scientists or subject experts receive simple instructions for gathering a variety of information. This type of crowdsourcing provides scientists a wider perspective and allows the average citizen to make a difference in finding solutions to complex, real-world problems.

Why Does Counting Birds Matter?

The canary in the coal mine is not just an analogy. Bird migration and distribution are clear reflections of overall environment health, including pollutants, habitat changes, climate patterns and water quality. In a 2007 Audubon report, which was based on 40 years of citizen science data, the number of the most common birds has decreased at an alarming rate: 82 percent loss in the case of the northern bobwhite, for example. The organization’s No. 1 recommendation for helping reverse this trend was to preserve farmland. The other actions you can take include saving grasslands and wetlands, stopping invasive species, patrolling beaches, monitoring feeders, and contributing to citizen science by counting and reporting the birds you see.

The winter can be a dreary time of waiting for the days lengthen so that gardening can get ramped up again. Instead, take an interest in counting winged wildlife. Here are three ways to use your observation skills to contribute to worldwide knowledge of bird habitats this winter.

1. Project Feeder Watch

Nov. 11, 2017 – April 13, 2018

Sign up for your citizen science kit. You’ll receive a poster to help with quick bird identification and a planner for tracking all your data. The bird counts are easy and require only a small commitment of time, but do expect to participate throughout the six months. The timing of this project catches three seasons of bird behavior; you might be amazed at the diversity of your completed reports when you take a look next spring.

2. Christmas Bird Count

Dec. 14, 2017 – Jan. 5, 2018

For 118 years, coordinators have gathered experienced birders and assigned areas to cover during one 24-hour period around the end of December. It’s a fun tradition during the holiday downtime, yet people take it quite seriously. The CBC is unusual in that it is a real bird census. Beginning birders are grouped with at least one experienced birder and assigned a certain area within a 15-mile circle. Compilers collect all the data for a site, check for anomalies or errors and submit it to Audubon. The CBC is a great way to get to know your local community of birders as you spend hours together as a team.

3. Great Backyard Bird Count

Feb. 16-19, 2018

Not ready to commit to several months of regular counts or a daylong outing in the middle of winter? Want to help count birds in a small way? The Great Backyard Bird Count relies on the volunteers who observe birds in their own yards (or another site of the volunteer’s choice) for at least 15 minutes on one or more days during Presidents Day weekend. Known as the original citizen science project for birds, the GBBC relies on the sightings of more than 160,000 birdwatchers from all over the world each year.

Connect & Contribute

Below are links to connect with other citizen science and bird information portals. Whether you want to browse the data to see what birds are in your neighborhood, or you are ready to join the club of contributors, these user-friendly sites make it simple to help our feathered friends.

Record your bird ID any time and any place, and connect with the birding community on Ebird.

Look up a bird to learn about its migration habits, sounds and diet at Cornell’s All About Birds.

Browse images of feathers to identify a found feather at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Feather Atlas.

Find fun and simple birding tips for kids, teachers or lifelong learners at Bird Sleuth.


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