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Residents document local bird populations this weekend with the Great Backyard Bird Count

The 2022 count included about 384,641 global participants. (Photo by Kayla Farmer, Unsplash.)

By Hannah E. Jones

Birds around the world are getting ready for their annual springtime migration. Each year, an estimated 3.5 billion birds travel back to the U.S. from their southern wintering grounds and 2.6 billion leave the country to return to Canada. 

This year marks the 26th annual GBBC. (Courtesy of the Great Backyard Bird Count.)

Before that trip begins, bird watchers will head outdoors to document nearby populations through the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). The community science initiative will run from Friday, Feb. 17 to Monday, Feb. 20. 

Established in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, the four-day citizen science project has since blossomed into an international data collection program. This project is simple and accessible for bird-watching novices and experts alike. 

Here’s how it works: Participants will choose a place to watch for birds — like their porch, a neighborhood park or anywhere that they can spot the winged animals. Next, they’ll keep their eyes peeled for 15 minutes or more, taking note of all the birds they see or hear, including the species and the number of each. 

Novice bird watchers can use the Merlin Bird ID app to identify the resident avians. Once participants have confidently identified the birds on their list, they’ll record the data into the eBird app or website

Since 1970, bird populations have declined by nearly 30 percent in the U.S. and Canada, and this data project is one step in helping protect the animals. The yearly data offers a snapshot of bird populations, documenting how many survived winter while also providing a benchmark to later measure how many successfully migrate.

“A lot of birds, unfortunately, don’t make it through the first winter… [and] migration is a very taxing thing for birds. They’re traversing tens, hundreds or thousands of miles,” Georgia Audubon Director of Conservation Adam Betuel said.

He added: “Birds are in trouble; We’re losing them for a multitude of reasons. People feeling like they have a stake in the game and understanding the amazing things birds can do is another benefit of this citizen science. You care about what you know.”

These figures also help ornithologists track shifts in the usual territory of a species — also known as their ranges. 

“You can start seeing those early detection signs of birds being found where they historically weren’t or very common [species] are no longer there,” Betuel said. “That could be due to climate change or other factors like changes in when flowers are blooming or trees are leafing out.”  

Like the Baltimore Orioles, Betuel explained, a small orange and black bird that has become a more frequent visitor around Atlanta and Athens over the past few winters.

In the coming months, baby birds will begin to hatch. One way to support them is by planting bird-friendly, native plants and ditching the invasives. Betuel also recommends learning about ways to reduce bird-building collisions, including the Lights Out Georgia initiative. 

“Here in Georgia, in the next couple of weeks, we’ll start to see birds moving around and song will start to pick up,” Betuel said. “For a lot of birders, spring migration is the pinnacle of our birding year, that’s when people get really excited. [The GBBC is] a nice event to get you geared up for the excitement to come.”

To take part in the upcoming Great Backyard Bird Count and find additional birding resources, click here.

Hannah E. Jones

Hannah Jones is an Atlanta native and Georgia State University graduate, with a major in journalism and minor in public policy. She began studying journalism in high school and has since served as a reporter and editor for two newspapers. Hannah managed the Arts and Living section of The Signal, Georgia State’s independent award-winning newspaper. She has a passion for environmental issues, urban life and telling a good story. Hannah can be reached at hannah@saportareport.com.


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1 Comment

  1. Helen Ensign February 17, 2023 11:17 am

    I know it’s a pipe dream, but I wish the Cop City plan could just be moved west onto the penitentiary grounds. That facility is almost empty, and really, what kind of re-use can a facility like that have? I drive past it weekly, and wonder what is going to happen to the property– I think the neighborhoods around the current proposed training facility site would be much better served by an expansion and improvement of the parkland, that they could actually use, rather than this training facility. But I know the city wants to put it there because they already own the land, and then of course they don’t need to answer to the residents, because it’s unincorporated Dekalb. It’s an ugly business, which the killing of the young activist has only made uglier.Report


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