Great Backyard Bird Count

This is an easy project for CYFAR programs to pull together. Just count the birds (by species) in your backyard (or other convenient location) for 15 minutes (or longer) on one of these 4 days. There are a few more rules, but it is an uncomplicated way to add citizen science and community service activities to your program while introducing the key issues of biodiversity and climate change. And, as of 2013, the GBBC is international! So no matter where you live, you can count.

Want to make this into a family or community event? The website provides a downloadable poster, slides and presentation notes, and suggests additional hands-on activities. The data form is easy to fill out and can be submitted by mail or online.  

Time:  Ranges from a minimum of 30 minutes (prep: 5 minutes; activity: 15 minutes observation, 10 minutes discussion, complete form and submit), to a several hours-long event

Supplies: Participation form and rules (download from website)
Binoculars (optional)
Bird identification guide (optional) 
Educational materials and other activity ideas (optional; download from website)

Climate Change and Biodiversity Issue

Where and When Birds Travel

Global climate change appears to have an impact on the wintering and breeding ranges for birds throughout North America. The Christmas Bird Count, conducted by the National Audubon Society for the past 100 years, demonstrates that almost 60% of the 305 species that winter in North America have changed their range—shifting to the north an average of 35 miles since the mid 1960’s. A number of species, like the American Robin and the Wild Turkey, have shifted their winter destinations several hundred miles. This change in range, related to climate change, results in habitat and ecosystem disruption.

Discussion and Reflection Questions

  1. When birds no longer winter in an area, what is the impact of their loss on that ecosystem? On the plants, insects, animals, and humans left behind? What roles do birds play in an ecosystem?
  2. When birds winter further north, what impact do they have on that existing ecosystem? Should we consider these birds to be ‘invasive species’?
  3. Will a bird’s food and shelter sources (such as plants and insects) have a similar ability to quickly shift their winter range to provide adequate food and shelter in the new range?
  4. Humans often put out bird feeders and bird houses to help birds survive the winter when food sources can be difficult to find.  What are the positive and negative aspects of our ‘helping’ the birds? What would happen if humans stopped providing food and shelter?
  5. While average January temperatures have been increasing, climate change also means increased incidence of “severe winter weather” such as periods of intense cold, heavy snowfall, strong winds. What might be the impact of severe weather on birds living in their new northern range?
References & Resources: 

Great Backyard Bird Count

Analysis of Christmas Bird Count Data showing the change in range over 40 years

Map of the NA bird species showing the most change in winter range

Example: Geese wintering in Alaska instead of Mexico

Explaining Bird Migration (the role of predators in the migration of lemmings)

What Bird

Author(s), Presenter(s): 
Trudy Dunham
Year published or updated: