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On Your Mark, Get Set, Count Birds!

Guy Stephens

The Christmas Bird Count is over but now the public is encouraged to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count. It's open to everyone and the premise is simple: Take 15 minutes -- or longer -- and count every bird you see. When you are done counting, upload your information to birdcount.org.

This worldwide annual event is in its 24th year. National Great Rivers Research & Education Center Environmental Educator Jen Young says that in 2020 there were more than 27 million birds counted.

"There were over 250,000 participants in over 194 countries," Young said. "There were also over 7,000 species of birds identified."

Young says this fun event is "for anyone and everyone" but the reasons behind the Count are scientific. Since scientists can't be everywhere at all times, they rely on citizen scientists to observe, count and record data.

"We can actually learn about their complex migration patterns and how their populations change from year to year," she said. "Long-term, we can see how birds are doing with different environmental changes that we're going through." 

In terms of how to participate, Young recommends first visiting the birdcount.org website to get acquainted with the uploading procedures. If you have difficulty identifying a species, Young said to download the Merlin Bird ID app or the eBird app. Both are free.

If you prefer to have an instructor guide you through the process, there is a virtual training eventhosted by the Riverlands Audubon Center and Wild Birds Unlimited of Florissant on Feb. 10 from 4:00-5:00 p.m. Young said that event is virtual, but is being hosted in Missouri and you should check to see if anyone in your neighborhood is participating.

"See if any local nature centers or community centers are putting on an event close to you," she said, "and see if they offer any virtual trainings as well."

Regardless of how you are counting, Young emphasized that you should stay in one location for at least 15 minutes.

Credit Connie Kuntz
Count them! Canada Geese fly over Kent Creek in Rockford, Ill.

"But you are more than welcome to watch longer," she said. "Just keep track of the total amount of time you spend watching birds. And if you're hiking while you count, keep track of how far you walk."

Young said the Count isn't limited to your backyard.

"The wonderful thing is that it can be completed anywhere including backyards, patios, parks, nature centers and everywhere in between."

Though your count can take place anywhere and anytime in the Feb. 12-15 window, the public is invited to the NGRRECgreen roof event in East Alton, Illinois from 1-5 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 12. The roof overlooks the Mississippi River and social distancing rules will be observed.

Wherever you live, Young says she especially hopes families become involved.

"It's a great opportunity to get outdoors, especially during the winter," she said. "During the pandemic, it's a great way to shake off some cabin fever."

The Count runs Feb. 12-15. You can start entering bird lists at midnight your time on the first day.

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