Great Backyard Bird Count returns in February for 25th year of counting birds

Photo by Jack Bulmer/Pixabay • Red-breasted nuthatches have not been prevalent this winter in Northeast Tennessee. Many people with bird feeders are more likely hosting the related white-breasted nuthatch. Next month, the Great Backyard Bird Count returns for a 25th year. Birders and nature enthusiasts will be invited to count common and not so common birds in their own yards, gardens or other favorite birding spots in order to contribute to scientific knowledge of bird population trends.

I look forward every year to the annual Great Backyard Bird Count, a survey established as a citizen science project back in 1998. This year’s GBBC will celebrate its silver anniversary as the yearly survey observes 25 years of monitoring bird populations.

Since 2013, the GBBC has been a global effort, allowing birders around the world to take part. Participants in 2015 observed almost half of the world’s known bird species, and that effort was surpassed the next year. Momentum has built ever since. Last year, GBBC participants identified 6,436 species of birds. When you consider that scientists estimate between 9,000 to 10,000 different species of birds throughout the world, that’s a lot of coverage that the GBBC provides each year.

The GBBC is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society with partner Bird Studies Canada. With its global perspective, a great many exotic bird species are now tallied on the annual GBBC, but the survey remains firmly established as a grassroots effort to compile data crucial for the conservation of the world’s beloved birds. The information gathered by tens of thousands of volunteers helps track the health of bird populations at a scale that would not otherwise be possible.

It’s incredibly easy to take part in the GBBC. Anyone anywhere in the world can count birds for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the four-day count period and enter their sightings at There’s no charge or fee for taking part in the GBBC, which is a fun way to observe a variety of birds. Thanks to the flexible count criteria, it is also an easy way to make a contribution to science. The data delivered by the thousands of participants is now collected and compiled by the website

In 2021, the GBBC broke records once again. Here are some interesting tidbits from last year’s survey:

• 6,436 species of birds identified

• 190 participating countries

• 379,726 eBird checklists

• 479,842 Merlin Bird IDs

• 151,393 photos added to Macaulay Library

• More than 300,000 estimated global participants

The United States had the highest number of checklists with more than 250,000 checklists submitted from all 50 U.S. states, five territories and the District of Columbia. California led all states with 20,715 checklists submitted. New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Florida rounded out the Top Five. Tennessee didn’t fare too poorly. The Volunteer State ranked 19th with 5,360 checklists submitted. Internationally, people living in the nations of Canada and India submitted a lot of checklists.

Over my years taking part in the GBBC, I have counted many interesting and unexpected birds, including green-winged teal, Ross’s goose, snow goose, red-shouldered hawk and Cooper’s hawk.

This year’s GBBC will be held over a four-day period, starting on Friday, Feb. 18, and continuing through Monday, Feb. 21. Participants are invited to count birds at their own homes in their yards and gardens.

Counters can also travel farther into the field, birding in their favorite parks, wildlife refuges or other birding hot spots. Participants can count alone or join with groups of fellow birders. Those taking part in the GBBC are invited to count in as many locations as they like. The reported results will help create a real-time snapshot of where birds are distributed during the winter months. Visit for more details on how to take part in the 2022 GBBC.

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