Adventures in Ethics and Science

The 12th annual Great Backyard Bird Count, sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, will be taking place February 13-16, 2009. This is a lovely (and long-running) bit of citizen science that aims to compile a continent-wide snapshot of bird populations during a few days in February before the spring migrations have started.

Participation is easy:

  • Plan to spend at least 15 minutes on at least one of the days of the count (Feb. 13, Feb. 14, Feb. 15, or Feb. 16) outdoors counting birds. You can do a count on more than one of the days if you want, and you can even count in more than one 15 minute interval on a given day of the count. You can count in the same place each time (your yard, your school, a park), or in a different place each time. There’s no special time of day you have to count — you can pick a 15 minute interval that fits your schedule.
  • Count the greatest number of individuals of each species that you see together at any one time. One woodpecker, two mallards, five seagulls, ten Canada geese, … In case you’re iffy about your ability to identify bird species, there are online resources: the top ten birds reported in the last Great Backyard Birdcount, in pictures and sounds, the free online field guide All About Birds, which includes identification strategies, and downloadable and printable regional bird checklists, that collect common (and rare) birds known to frequent your postal code and its environs. There’s also a downloadable blank data form (pdf).
  • Enter your counts through the GBBC webpage. Once the count starts on February 13, there will be a button labeled “Enter Your Checklists!” The button will be there through March 1, 2009 (the submission deadline), which means you don’t have to upload your count immediately after you’ve taken it. Still, don’t let it get away from you!

There are some great online resources for GBBC 2008, including a page of resources just for kids. And, if you’re looking for inspiration, they’ve compiled “science stories” from previous years’ counts.

So, put on a jacket, grab your camera or binoculars, and get ready to count some birds!

Hat-tip: Heddi