Earth Gauge Tip of the Week – Great Backyard Bird Count

Reader Contribution by Earth Gauge
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The 2013 Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) takes place from Friday, Feb. 15 through Monday, Feb. 18. Each year, volunteers across the country tally the birds they see in backyards, parks and natural areas. Last year, GBBC participants racked up more than 17 million observations and identified 623 species! Counting birds during GBBC helps scientists gain a snapshot of how winter bird populations are changing across North America. Some interesting trends from the 2012 count include:

  • Snowy Owl Sightings: Above average numbers of Snowy Owls were reported nationwide, and record numbers of observations were set throughout the Great Plains and Pacific Northwest. Why so many? The most likely explanation is that Snowy Owls depend on prey populations that rise and fall in cycles. When prey populations are large, so are numbers of Snowy Owls and other predators. When prey populations crash, the owls have to look elsewhere for food.
  • Coots Across the Continent: In a normal year, American Coots are found in more southern areas of North America that do not freeze. In 2012, coots were found well to the north of their normal range and in higher numbers across the North American continent. There are two reasons: more coots due to a very successful breeding year in 2011 and a mild winter that left some preferred habitats – like ponds, lakes and rivers — unfrozen.
  • Spread of Invasive Species: The Eurasian Collared-Dove is an invasive species that was introduced in Florida in the 1980s and has expanded its range ever since. 2012 observations show that the dove has colonized the Pacific Northwest and reached Alaska — but it is absent from New England.

Viewer Tip: Collecting all this data would be impossible without the help of thousands of volunteers. Anyone can participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count by tallying birds for at least 15 minutes on any day of the count. Simple instructions for counting and reporting birds are available at You can also find regional bird checklists, photo galleries, resources for kids and more!

GBBC is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Audubon and Bird Studies Canada. Image of Snowy Owl courtesy of Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife.