History of the Great Backyard Bird Count

Are you looking for a last minute Valentine’s Day date idea? Why not bird watching? This year’s Great Backyard Bird Count falls on February 15th-18th, perfect timing for a late Valentines Day date! The Great Backyard Bird Count was started in 1998 by the Cornell Ornithology Lab and the National Audubon Society. The count was the first online citizen-science project to collect and display data on wild birds. Participants would upload their findings online, and in about an hour their results would be listed along with people from all across the country. The first Great Backyard Bird Count had 14,000 participants and reported over half a million birds from all across the country.

Today the Great Backyard Bird Count has grown to become a world wide event and even a photography competition! Last year, the count had 192,456 participants from all across the globe and 176,905 completed checklists were turned in. To get started, all you need to do is watch and record any birds you may see in a 15 minute period (Or longer!) and then upload your results through a free Ebird account. You can then watch reports come in from birders all over the world on the live map. When the count is over, the data collected is used in research, conservation, education, and so much more.

In Iowa, 777 checklists were turned in to the Great Backyard Bird Count in 2018. Iowans documented 103 different species, with Polk County and Story County tying with 61 recorded species, the highest number in the state. However, the county with the most completed checklists was Cass County, with 85 checklists.

One of the many local bird watching groups, the Big Bluestem Audubon Society, has encouraged members to participate in the bird count since 1999. Each year, their newsletters have included a small blurb to remind members of the event. As the event has grown in size, the placement of the announcement has moved from the back of the newsletter to eventually making the front page.

The Great Backyard Bird Count typically falls on the second weekend of February every year, so get your binoculars ready!

Scan of the cover page from the Big Bluestem Audubon Society Volume 36 Number 3 Scan of a newsletter from the Big Bluestem Audubon Society

Volume 36 Number 3 Newsletter of the Big Bluestem Audubon Society. MS 592 Box 3 Folder 7