Backyard Bird Count

By Jeff Rugg

February 5, 2020 5 min read

We can get seven-day weather forecasts with minute-by-minute updates on practically every electronic device we own. Now imagine being a bird. One day, the weather is warm and you are thinking spring is almost here, and then the next day, it's freezing cold. It is tough to be a bird. You won't know whether to fly north or south.

February is National Bird-Feeding Month, as noted by the National Bird-Feeding Society. If you want to feed birds, use one of their preferred seeds: black-oil sunflower, sunflower chips, nyjer, and white proso millet. Small finches, such as goldfinches and pine siskins, prefer sunflower chips and nyjer (also called thistle, even though it is not a thistle). Larger finches such as house finches, purple finches and cardinals prefer black-oil sunflower seeds. White proso millet is preferred by ground-feeding birds such as doves, juncos and sparrows. Chickadee and nuthatch species, which grab seeds from bird feeders and fly away to eat them elsewhere, prefer sunflower seeds.

There are seeds that are unattractive to birds. Red milo is a seed few birds will eat, unless all the other seeds are gone. Seed blends with large amounts of red milo will get knocked out of the feeder as the birds search for seeds they prefer, making a mess and creating a weed problem.

One of the fun things about watching the birds at your bird feeder is wondering if the birds have been there all winter or if they have been moving around. Birds move across the continent during the winter more than most people realize. One of the ways we know this is by counting the birds that come to your feeder all winter long. The Cornell University Lab of Ornithology has been sponsoring Project FeederWatch for many years. All winter long, thousands of participating citizen scientists record the birds they see at their feeders each week. By comparing results, it is possible to see where birds move across the country.

Another citizen scientist opportunity is coming up soon. The Great Backyard Bird Count, operated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, will take place Feb. 14-17, and you can do it from the comfort of your living room if you want to. It is an annual four-day period when bird-watchers create snapshots of where the birds are across the continent. Anyone can be a bird-watcher for those four days. A "backyard" can be anywhere you happen to be — a schoolyard, a local park, the balcony of a high-rise apartment or a wildlife refuge.

Doing the count is easy. All you do is count the birds you see at your location. The highest number of each species seen on any of the days is recorded. Then you go to to record your list online. While you are there, check out the photo contest page to see some great photos.

The website can also help you prepare for a trip to the backyard, or wherever you choose to watch birds. The site is full of tips of all kinds, including information on bird identification apps for your phone. You can find links to a variety of other citizen science projects.

The results of each Great Backyard Bird Count survey are displayed on a variety of maps. You can easily see the distribution pattern of any bird species. You can also see the same map change over time, as the bird's mapped distribution changes over the years. You can compare your sightings to everyone else's in your state.

Make sure the birds from your community are well represented in the count. It doesn't matter whether you report the five species you see at your backyard feeder or the 50 species you see after spending a day at a wildlife refuge.

This event is developed and managed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, with sponsorship from Wild Birds Unlimited.

Email questions to Jeff Rugg at [email protected] To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Photo credit: MabelAmber at Pixabay

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