It probably comes as no surprise that I love animals. Big, small, scaly, fluffy, you name it, I love the animal world around us.

Even if I don’t like the way an animal looks, I can still appreciate them for what they offer our world: pest control, pollination, any number of helpful services. Birds just so happen to be some of my favorite animals. Though, I’ll admit that until I started working at the zoo, I didn’t completely appreciate the diversity of our feathered friends and knew nothing about the Great Backyard Bird Count (or GBBC).

Thankfully, I’ve gotten to work alongside a variety of avian species and have even been able to participate in Audobon’s annual GBBC. This event takes place Feb. 15 through 18 this year and is an opportunity for bird watchers of all ages to count birds to create a real-time snapshot of where birds are around the world. This global project allows scientists at The Cornell Lab to find population trends, as well as other helpful information from across the planet.

Research collaborations between scientists and citizens wanting to get involved, such as the GBBC, are known as citizen science projects. These projects expand opportunities for scientific data to be collected.

The bird count is one of the biggest citizen science projects available. All you must do to participate is step outside and start listing birds that you see. You can spend as little as 15 minutes of your time in your own backyard to be able to contribute. Once you’re finished birding, you can submit your findings to; it’s just that simple!

You can submit a new checklist for each day, as well as each location you visit. You can also submit multiple lists if you stay at the same location on the same day, but at a different time of day.

If you’re not an experienced birder or aren’t sure what type of bird you are seeing, there’s an app for that! The Audobon’s website has great bird information, and they offer a mobile-friendly app called the Audobon Bird Guide that is completely free. The app features the sounds, images, map ranges, and more of 821 North American species.

If you build it, they will come! Providing shelter and food for native wildlife is a great way to see more visitors in your own backyard. A little research goes a long way to finding the right feed or house to attract a variety of different types of birds.

In my own backyard, sparrows and house finches take advantage of trumpet vine growing year-round; my husband and I have even spotted ruby-throated hummingbirds during their summer migration. Doves, robins, grackles, and others stick to my trees. Occasionally we’ve spotted purple martins and cedar wax-wings, as well. We are lucky to have such diversity in our yard, especially since our house cat always seems to be glaring from the windows.

If birds aren’t typically found in your own backyard, feel free to approach the term “backyard” a little more broadly. Your backyard can be any area you are! Lee Richardson Zoo is home to species of birds from around the world who are cared for by staff, but we also have plenty of native wildlife that visits the grounds, especially our duck pond. Ducks and other waterfowl take advantage of the water resource year-round, but only the trumpeter swans are in the zoo’s care.

Around the grounds of the zoo you can also come across owls, hawks, juncos, woodpeckers, nuthatches, doves, pigeons, herons, hummingbirds, cranes, and many, many more.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is a wonderful way for bird watchers to contribute to a global database of bird populations. Mark your calendars for Feb. 15 through 18 to take part in a global citizen science project. Anyone with internet access can participate, no matter the skill level, and it’s a great nature activity for the whole family. Come on down to the zoo to see how many species of birds you can discover!


Emily Sexson is the conservation education manager at Lee Richardson Zoo.