Article Tools

Font size
Share This

Here’s a chance to do something outdoorsy without leaving the sofa. The Great Backyard Bird Count happens from Feb. 17-20.

To take part, just look out the window.

By counting, people help scientists know how populations and locations of birds change from year to year.

This is the 20th year for the count, and the numbers of birds sighted aren’t all that have been going up. The count of people taking part zoomed from 13,500 in the first year to 163,000 last year.

While the count started in the United States and Canada, watchers now send in tallies from 100 countries.

For those taking part, there are some rules.

Set aside at least 15 minutes for watching without interruption.

Count the most birds of each species seen at one time.

If a flock of sparrows lands in a tree, try to count how many are there and record that number. If there are too many to count, block off an area and count the birds within it.

If a nuthatch flies back and forth from the trees to a feeder 10 times in 15 minutes, count it once.

To file counts, watchers need to create a free account at or

Forms available on those websites ask watchers to record the location, day, time and comments about weather or what the birds were doing.

Then a checklist of species will pop up, and watchers can note the number of each species.

Watchers also can file photos and sound recordings of birds that entered their yard.

People who don’t recognize the birds in their yard can consult a bird book or an online guide.

One comprehensive site is Maintained by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, one of the sponsors of the backyard count, contains photos, written information, song recordings and migration maps.

It helps identify unexpected birds, too. Two years ago, pine siskins came to my yard. They usually stay north in Canada but sometimes venture farther south to the states in trips that birders call irruptions.

After I reported, one of the experts who monitors submissions emailed to ask if I was sure I saw siskins.

I was because I had taken a photo and emailed it to my friend and Wildlife page columnist Alan Gregory, who identified the siskins for me.

If people want to walk around the block or take a hike, they can record the birds seen on their outings. But that’s optional. For that, they would have to leave the sofa.