Mark your calendar! The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) takes place this weekend (from Friday, 2/15- Monday, 2/18/2019). In its 22nd year, the GBBC gathers information to understand the “big picture” of what’s happening to bird populations around the world. Anyone can join in, no matter the age or skill level. The only requirement is internet access. Not only do researchers depend on the data gathered from “citizen scientists” to understand bird behavior and migrations, but bird watching can also be good for you!
- A 2015 study showed that people living in neighborhoods with more birds, shrubbery, and trees were less likely to suffer from stress, anxiety, and depression.
- Another study demonstrated that just listening to bird song helped relieve stress and increase attention span.
- The act of getting outside and spending time in nature has been shown to have restorative properties.
- Time spent outdoors remains the best way to produce enough Vitamin D, a vitamin necessary for optimal health.
Participating in the GBBC is easy. Go to the Great Backyard Bird Count website to create an account. Then count the birds seen in your location for at least 15 minutes during the one or more days of the event and report your results on their website.
The Merlin Bird ID App
My favorite app for bird watching any time of year is the Merlin Bird ID. This free app, developed by Cornell University, couldn’t be easier to use. All you need to do is answer five questions about the bird you wish to identify:
Based on your answers, the Merlin app will generate a list of possible birds. The list isn’t random, but relies on a database of the most common species found in your location at the time you are using the app.
Once you’ve identified your bird, you can read more about the particular species. You can learn its migration pattern and even listen to recordings of its song.
I have thoroughly enjoyed using the Merlin app to help me identify species in my area including the White-breasted Nuthatch, American Goldfinch, Tufted Titmouse, Pileated Woodpecker, Indigo Bunting, Red-winged Blackbird, Northern Flicker, and many more. This is a great app for hobbyists, as well as for those with students studying birds (or biology, ecosystems, or animal behavior) in school. I love how easy it is to identify the birds that come to my bird feeder. It provides a much-needed break from my view of computer and phone screens, and helps keep me mindful of the big, beautiful world we live in.
Do you plan to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count?