A weekend for the birds

Take time this weekend to count birds for citizen science as part of the Great Backyard Bird Count.

In many parts of the northern hemisphere, February is a time of year full of snow, gray skies and cold. But while we can curl up indoors with hot chocolate, our feathery friends must take what the weather throws at them. This weekend you can head outside and join them — if only briefly. And even if it’s cold, keep in mind that you’re braving it for a good cause: science.

The Great Backyard Bird Count runs February 14 to 17. It offers an opportunity not only to learn more about the birds in your area but also to help scientists study birds the world over. Started by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, this event relies on the help of citizen scientists — people from all walks of life who collect real scientific data (often just by observing the world around them).  

All you have to do is go outside and count every bird you see or hear for at least 15 minutes. You can sit in one spot, take a nature walk or do anything else. Just keep your eyes open and ears alert to any feathers or chirps. Write down how many different types of birds you saw and heard. An online guide can help you figure out which species you witnessed.

Then log onto the Great Bird Count website. After creating an account, pinpoint your location on the map provided. Now enter your data. Still unsure what to do? Instructions and a video guide on the website will walk you through what you need to do.

The birds you count over the weekend will help scientists get the big picture of what birds are wintering where. Remember: Every extra set of eyes and ears can really help.

Power Words

citizen science   Scientific research in which the public — people of all ages and abilities — participate. The data that these citizen “scientists” collect helps to advance scientific research. Citizen science means that scientists can get data from many more people and places than would be available if they were working alone.

ornithology  The science of the biology and behavior of birds.

species  A group of similar organisms capable of producing offspring that can survive and reproduce.

Bethany Brookshire was a longtime staff writer at Science News Explores and is the author of the book Pests: How Humans Create Animal Villains. She has a Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology and likes to write about neuroscience, biology, climate and more. She thinks Porgs are an invasive species.

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