The Annual Great Backyard Bird Count

By Kevin Kubik

This past weekend was the 5th year in a row that I have participated in the Annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). The GBBC is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the national Audubon Society and it’s a four-day event held every year on Presidents Day Weekend. The goal of the bird count project is simple – to get a real-time snapshot of where the birds are. Participation is open to everyone – from beginners to expert birders. You can spend as little or as much time as you like counting the numbers of each species of bird at your location during the weekend and recording them on the GBBC website (

Red-bellied woodpecker (photo courtesy Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

Why Count Birds?

Here’s how GBBC explains the event: “Scientists and bird enthusiasts can learn a lot by knowing where the birds are. Bird populations are dynamic; they are constantly in flux. No single scientist or team of scientists could hope to document and understand the complex distribution and movements of so many species in such a short time.

Scientists use the GBBC information, along with observations from other citizen-science projects, such as the Christmas Bird Count, Project FeederWatch, and eBird, to get the “big picture” about what is happening to bird populations. The longer these data are collected, the more meaningful they become in helping scientists investigate far-reaching questions, like these:

• How will the weather 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?”

Downy woodpecker (Photo courtesy Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

While the weather didn’t cooperate this year (it was too cold and windy for much bird activity in my neighborhood on Sunday and Monday), I still managed to see some of my favorite local birds. Most notably were: a red-bellied woodpecker in a nearby tree, a downy woodpecker pecking away on some fragmites, and a Coopers Hawk soaring high above my house.

Hopefully next year’s contest will have better bird watching weather in NJ and I look forward to the coming spring migration along the coast.

About the Author: Kevin Kubik serves as the region’s Deputy Director for the Division of Environmental Science and Assessment out of EPA’s Edison Environmental Center. He has worked as a chemist for the Region for more than 29 years in the laboratory and in the quality assurance program.

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