The Great Backyard Bird Count


What is the Great Backyard Bird Count?

The Great Backyard Bird Count is a free and fun citizen science program that takes place annually in mid-February. To participate, look out your window and see what birds are in your backyard or at your feeders during the four days of the count. You will need to submit a checklist online or through the smartphone eBird app to add your sightings to all the data collected from around the world.

The Great Backyard Bird Count, like Project FeederWatch, monitors the abundance, distribution, and winter movement of birds in North America.

birds_canada geese
Head of a Canada Goose. Photo by Donna L. Long

Since 1998, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has sponsored this project.  Today the project is jointly sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Birds Canada, and the National Audubon Society.

I think it is important to count and submit data on urban birds particularly. A 2010 article, in the scientific journal Nature, revealed that ecologists had neglected the study of urban ecosystems.  Those of us who live in urban areas can correct this mistake by entering data in this and other citizen science projects. 

There is a notion afoot, that animals and plants must disappear (die off) in the presence of humans. The numbers are often reduced, but many animals live in cities. What I often write about is how we can provide good lives for all the inhabitants of the city, human and non-human.

Northern Mockingbird

When the Great Backyard Bird Count Takes Place

The annual count collects data on bird populations before the great spring migration. The count takes place each year in mid-February over four days. The count takes place over a weekend, Friday through Monday. In 2022, the Count will take place February 18-21, 2022.

How Can You Participate?

The Count has participants worldwide. You can participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count in your backyard or at a favorite birding spot. You can participate as an individual, a household or in a group.

Male Hairy Woodpecker eating from upside down suet feeder in my backyard.
Male Hairy Woodpecker eating from upside down suet feeder in my backyard.

How Do You Sign Up?

If you have a smartphone you enter your data through the eBird app available in the iPhone App store or for Android phone the Google Play store. Search for the eBird app and download it. Create an account or sign-in to an existing account with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

If you have the Merlin app you can’t use it for the Count. The Merlin app is for identification of bird species. It a free field guide on your smartphone. The app is available through the Apple App or Google Play store.

Your Great Backyard Bird Count and eBird accounts are linked. Any sightings you enter during the Great Backyard Bird Count dates will automatically counted in the project.

Next record your sightings. The instructions on observation are below and on the Great Backyard Bird Count website. It couldn’t be easier.

If you don’t have a smartphone you can enter your sightings online at

perching Northern Goshawk
Northern Goshawk Gillfoto, Juneau, Alaska, United States, CC, via Wikimedia Commons

How to Participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count

It’s not much different from Project Feederwatch. I think of it as a mashup of Project Feederwatch and the Christmas Bird Count. You can count in your backyard like FeederWatch or count in a group. You also have the option of observing at a favorite sight.

If you want to go out in a group, check your local birding organization or environmental centers for opportunities.

Step 1: Decide where you will watch birds.

Step 2: Watch birds for 15 minutes or more, at least once over the four days, 

Step 3: Count all the birds you see or hear within your planned time/location and use the best tool for sharing your bird sightings:

(from has a free webinar on how to participate in the count.

Last year’s participants could download a participation certificate after the count.

A Starling eating suet in my backyard.


I hope this takes some of the mystery out of joining a citizen science project. Gathering scientifically relevant data for scientists is not hard.

If you have suggestions for others or questions share them in the comments below. 

This post will take the place of our regular Saturday blog post.


More Winter Birding Information

Rare Bird Alerts

Sign up for rare sightings for an area of your choosing using eBird

More Birding Citizen Science Projects

Project FeederWatch Info, Tips and Nature Journal Ideas

Christmas Bird Count, 2015

Citizen Science: Audubon Christmas Bird Count Begins December 14


  1. Donna, I think you are exactly right. The whole concept of “urban wildlife” has only relatively recently been treated as an interesting and important field of study. But with animal habitats increasingly eaten up by human habitations, the animals are moving in to the suburbs and cities. There's bound to be conflict, so the more we can do to educate our friends and neighbors, the better for all – humans and animals alike, as you say. Keep up the good work, fellow nature lover!

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