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Great Backyard Bird Count

Nifa Author
Margaret Lawrence, Writer-Editor

Millions of people watch birds—whether looking out a window at their feeders or taking planned birding trips. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates there are more than 46 million birders in the United States, and about 39 million of those are primarily backyard birders who enjoy the diversity of birds visiting their feeders and yards.

Over the next four days, people around the world will participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). The GBBC, which began in 1998 as a joint effort between the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, is the first and largest citizen science project in the world.  

GBBC participants’ observations help scientists better understand global bird populations before the start of spring migrations.

Beyond the citizen science of the GBBC, Land-grant University researchers supported by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) are tackling important questions related to birds and their habitats.

Check out some NIFA-funded research investigation on how invasive species, human activities and climate change are impacting wild bird populations.

Different Kind of Bird Count

Researchers at Oklahoma State University are examining how native birds respond to changes in their habitats in a multi-year study.  In addition to studying populations through bird counts, researchers will use satellite imagery to map out the potential range of different species and predict how those ranges will change under different projections of climate change. Their goal is to help conservationists better understand what habitat conditions best support native birds.  Learn more about this project supported by McIntire-Stennis capacity funding.

Evaluating Effects of Invasive Species

At the University of Massachusetts, scientists are investigating how the expansion of invasive plant species can change habitats and populations of songbirds and butterflies.  With McIntire-Stennis capacity funding, researchers are examining how plants like garlic mustard species affect songbirds such as black-capped chickadees, wood thrushes and gray catbirds. Details of the Massachusetts research can be seen here.

Understanding Shale Oil Development on Pennsylvania Birds

Ornithologists at Pennsylvania State University are working to determine the effects of shale gas development on forest birds and their habitats. Using Hatch capacity funding, they are also investigating multiple factors that affect avian abundance and diversity in Pennsylvania forests.  Read more about this multi-year effort here.

Training Future Leaders

For more than 40 years, the National Wildlife Habitat Education Program (WHEP) has provided 4-H and FFA members with environmental learning that is hands-on and challenging as well as fun. WHEP grew from the early efforts of University of Tennessee Cooperative Extension professionals. Through WHEP, young people learn about wildlife, including more than 80 species of birds and habitat management.  Learn more about WHEP here.

Providing Educational Opportunities to the Public

Cooperative Extension across the country offers wide-ranging birding and wildlife programs for the general public. Here are several examples.
  • Louisiana State University (LSU) offers birding programs at the LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens. Read about this effort here.
  • The Graham Farm and Nature Center is a 491-acre farm that is part of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.  Located in northeast Alabama, the center’s wetlands, pastures, and forests offer people opportunities to hike and watch birds as well as participate in educational programs and workshops. Learn more about Graham Farm and Nature Center here.

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