Backyard Bird Count Shatters Records

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American Coot on take-off

The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), the largest effort so far to track birds worldwide, has set new records, with more than 25 million birds documented on 116,000 checklists in just four days.

So far, 3,138 species have been recorded, which represents one-third of the world’s total bird species. The number crunching isn’t even over with yet, as data will continue to flow in until March 1, although the count itself took place from Feb. 15-18.

“This is a milestone for citizen science in so many respects — number of species, diversity of countries involved, total participants, and number of individual birds recorded,” John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, said in a press release. “We hope this is just the start of something far larger, engaging the whole world in creating a detailed annual snapshot of how all our planet’s birds are faring as the years go by.”

Here are some of the key findings, according to the GBBC:

Top 5 Most Reported Species (reported on highest number of checklists): Northern Cardinal; Dark-eyed Junco; Mourning Dove; Downy Woodpecker; House Finch

Top 5 Most Common Birds (most individuals reported): Snow Goose; Canada Goose; Red-winged Blackbird; European Starling; American Coot

Finch Invasion: A massive number of northern finch species moved into the United States including the Common Redpoll, reported in a record 36 states. Scientists believe these periodic movements are related to natural fluctuations in crops of conifer cones and other seeds in Canada.

Hurricane Sandy: The weather system that caused Sandy’s landfall also blew some European birds to North America, and evidence of this is still showing up in GBBC results. The colorful, crested Northern Lapwing was reported in Georgia, New Jersey and Massachusetts during the count.

GBBC First: A Red-flanked Bluetail has wintered at Queens Park, Vancouver, and was also reported for the GBBC’s first record ever. This British Columbia bird has been drawing birdwatchers from all over the U.S. and Canada hoping to see this rarity. This little thrush is one of the only birds in the world with a striking blue tail and is native to Asia: the other GBBC report this year was from Japan.

The GBBC has been taking place for the past 15 years, but this was the first year organizers employed “eBird,” a system that enables people to report birds globally in real-time and explore the results online. (Although the official count has ended, you can still document the birds that you see all year round at www.eBird.org.)

As Audubon chief scientist Gary Langham said, “People who care about birds can change the world. That’s why this year’s record-setting global participation is so exciting. Technology has made it possible for people everywhere to unite around a shared love of birds and a commitment to protecting them.”

(Image: Greg Hume/Wikimedia Commons)

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