Become a Citizen Scientist by Counting Birds

by Holly Boettcher

There is no doubt that by planting gardens, trees, and shrubs you create a habitat that attracts all kinds of songbirds to your backyard. And songbirds are certainly a complement to your gardens. Adding feeders and offering different types of seed is a way to keep them coming day after day. Research has proven that attracting and feeding backyard birds enhances your quality of life. 

When I go on vacation during the winter months, I not only need someone to take care of our kitties and chickens: Of course, they also need to fill the birdfeeders, rinse my heated bird baths, and fill them with fresh water every day. Why continue feeding the birds while I am gone? The birds keep my husband and me entertained in our backyard all winter. Although they would find their own food out in nature, I like to feel that they really appreciate how much I spoil them.

I am a Citizen Scientist 

“The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a member-supported unit of Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, which studies birds and other wildlife. They believe in the power of birds to ignite discovery and inspire action. Through science and innovation, they bring scientists, students, and the public from all walks of life together in the quest to generate new knowledge and conserve our shared natural world.” 

I joined the Cornell Lab on their quest to explore and understand the earth’s biodiversity along with hundreds of thousands of other people by recording bird observations. It does not matter if you are in your own backyard, a city street, or in a remote forest. By counting birds, you can provide data to scientists, which helps them analyze and understand how birds are affected by environmental changes.  

It is So Simple

Not only is it rewarding to learn how to identify common feeder birds of Eastern North America, but it’s very easy to enroll in their Project Feeder Watch. 

Step 1:  Join by visiting their website: There is small cost of $18. You will receive a kit with information, a calendar, a bird identification poster, and more.

Step 2:  Choose where you will count. This should be an area with feeders that are visible from your vantage point. 

Step 3: Decide how long you will count. You can count as little as two days or as much as you would like. Always count the same time of day, but not necessarily all day.  

Step 4: Count all birds that visit your feeder, but not those flying overhead. 

Step 5: You will get instructions on how to count. The goal is to never count the same bird more than once in a day.  

Step 6: Keep track by mobile app, a paper tally sheet, or directly on their website.  

Counting backyard birds is something fun to do with your family. It also makes a nice Christmas gift along with a feeder and bird seed.  Why not give it a try and become a Citizen Scientist, too!