Record number of countries join the Great Backyard Bird Count

By mid-afternoon on Tuesday, participants from a record 127 countries had submitted bird checklists for the annual Great Backyard Bird Count, eclipsing last year’s 110 countries, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The four-day count ended Monday, but data continued to roll in from around the globe, on pace to surpass last year’s record-breaking count.

The information gathered by tens of thousands of volunteers helps track the health of bird populations at a scale that would not otherwise be possible.

The GBBC is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society with partner Bird Studies Canada.

Preliminary results from the count include:

Top 10 most frequently reported species, based on the number of checklists reporting species: northern cardinal, dark-eyed junco, mourning dove, blue jay, downy woodpecker, American goldfinch, American crow, tufted titmouse, house finch and house sparrow.

Top 10 most numerous species, based on the sum of how many individuals were observed across all checklists: snow goose, Canada goose, European starling, mallard, red-winged blackbird, ring-billed gull, American coot, dark-eye junco, American crow and American goldfinch.

Checklists have come from Australia, China, Argentina, Kazakhstan, Iceland, India, Kenya and even Antarctica. In Canada, participants in British Columbia have racked up the highest provincial total (189) in that country. Participation in the Maritime Provinces also is up with reports from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador already outstripping last year’s totals even before all the data has been entered.

India is the clear superstar outside of North America with nearly 3,000 checklists and the greatest number of species reported at 765.

In North America, California sits atop the leader board with the most checklists – 7,607 – and the greatest number of species so far – 354 – but New York is nipping at its heels for the checklist record with its 7,161.

Pennsylvania ranks third with 6,413 checklists and 136 species.

Ontario, Canada, jumped into the top 10 for checklists, outdistancing even big birdy states such as Texas, Florida and North Carolina.

The checklist and species numbers will continue to rise as participants enter their data for the four days of the count through the end of the month.

Although much more data has yet to be recorded, here are some of the trends noted so far:

  • Fewer Finches – After last year’s “superflight,” this year’s GBBC reports for 10 irruptive species (mostly finches) are down considerably. This includes reports for the white-winged and red crossbills, common and hoary redpolls, pine and evening grosbeaks, pine siskin, purple finch, red-breasted nuthatches, and Bohemian waxwings. These are natural fluctuations in numbers because of variation in seed crops.
  • Snowy Owl Invasion Continues – A massive irruption of snowy owls into the northeastern, mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes states of the U.S., as well as southeastern Canada, is easily seen in GBBC numbers. Preliminary results show more than 2,500 snowy owls being reported in 25 states and seven provinces of the U.S. and Canada.
  • The Polar Vortex Effect – The impact of frigid cold in many part of North America has resulted in unusual movements of waterfowl and grebes. With the Great Lakes almost completely frozen, some species, such as the white-winged scoter and the long-tailed duck have fled the frozen lakes and stopped at inland locations where they are not usually found at this time of year.