Thumbnail image Marky Mutchler | Macaulay Library

[Chelsea Benson] All right. I can see people are tuning in and joining today’s webinar. Welcome. People are adding where they’re tuning in from to the chat. So feel free to share your location, if you like. So sorry about that. I had a little volume issue happening for a second.

Welcome to today’s webinar. We’re so happy to see this many people joining our conversation from all over the world and from the United States and from Canada. It’s really exciting. Today, we’re going to be discussing the Great Backyard Bird Count, which starts this Friday, February 16, and concludes on Monday, February 19.

My name is Chelsea. I’m with the Cornell Lab. And I’m going to be facilitating today’s conversation. the Great Backyard Bird Count is a collaborative effort from the Cornell Lab, Birds Canada, and the National Audubon Society. Wild Birds Unlimited is a founding sponsor. We’re excited to welcome three project coordinators plus two guest speakers will be joining us. I’m going to introduce our guests after a few announcements.

Today’s webinar is hosted from Ithaca, New York, where both Cornell University and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology are located. It’s important to recognize the original stewards of this land, the peoples who have a historical and continued connection to this place, and the traditional ecological knowledge held and shared from these communities. Please stay with me as I read a brief statement acknowledging and made in collaboration with the Indigenous people of this area.

Cornell University is located on the traditional homelands of the Gayogohó:nǫɁ, the Cayuga Nation. The Gayogohó:nǫɁ are members of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, an alliance of six sovereign nations with a historic and contemporary presence on this land. The Confederacy precedes the establishment of Cornell University, New York State, and the United States of America. We acknowledge the painful history of the Gayogohó:nǫɁ dispossession and honor the ongoing connection of Gayogohó:nǫɁ people, past and present, to these lands and waters.

A couple of tech notes for our audiences on Zoom and YouTube. You’ll likely notice we have an American Sign Language interpreter. Welcome. If you’re watching on Zoom, you can pin the interpreter screen so that they’re always in clear view by clicking the three dots in the upper right-hand corner of their video.

Closed captioning is also available on Zoom. And if you’d like to turn the captions on or off, click the captions button at the bottom of the screen. If you don’t see a captions button, click the three dots that say more. For those watching on YouTube, click the CC button at the bottom of the video to turn on your captions.

To ask our panel questions, if you’re on Zoom, click the Q&A button and type in your question. We’re only using the Zoom chat for technical support, and we’re not going to be looking in that area for questions for our panel. If you’re watching on YouTube, use the chat and ask our panel questions. My colleagues are going to be helping to answer those questions, and also share information.

All right. That was a ton of announcements. Thank you for bearing with me. We’re going to get started. I’d like to welcome our three project coordinators for the Great Backyard Bird Count. So today, we have with us Brooke Bateman from the National Audubon Society. Welcome, Brooke. Kerrie Wilcox from Birds Canada. Hi, Kerrie.

[Kerrie Wilcox] Hi.

[Chelsea Benson] And Becca Rodemsky-Bish from the Cornell Lab. Hey, Becca.

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Hi. Good to see everyone.

[Chelsea Benson] You all are in the thick of it. The Great Backyard Bird Count is just about to start. So I really appreciate you taking the time to join and share all this great information with our audience today. Partway through our conversation, we’re going to bring on another set of panelists to talk about community engagement and birding with kids. I know a lot of people submitted questions about how to bird with kids and how to get them excited about birding, so we’ll bring on another group partway through.

So welcome Brooke, Kerrie, Becca. Brooke, I actually wanted to start off with you. Let’s talk big picture about the GBBC, which means Great Backyard Bird Count. So if I keep saying GBBC, I mean Great Backyard Bird Count. For those of you who’ve never heard of it, what is it, when is it, and is it really just something that can only be done in your backyard?

[Brooke Bateman] Thanks, Chelsea. The Great Backyard Bird Count is a four-day event that happens every February. This year, it starts Friday, February 16, and goes through the whole weekend until Monday, the 19th, and people around the world are sharing with us what birds that they are seeing and hearing. All you need is a little as 15 minutes so that people can ask– we can ask people to watch birds and report what birds they’re seeing. And you can do this once or you can do this multiple times over that entire four-day event.

And one of the really fun things about the GBBC is that you can count from anywhere. You can count while looking at your window at your bird feeder. You can count in your local park. You can walk down the street. You really can participate from anywhere in the world. So it’s just a really easy and accessible program to become a part of.

We also ask that you record all the birds that you see in here that you’re able to identify. And it’s just birds are everywhere. And I think it’s just really a great opportunity for you to get out there, see what birds are showing up and share your sightings with us.

[Chelsea Benson] That’s awesome. I know I had some pre-submitted questions about like, I’m traveling. Can I still participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count? Absolutely. What a great way to learn about the birds where you’re traveling, and lucky you that you’re traveling.

So Becca, we have a lot of people joining the Great Backyard Bird Count for the first time who might be new to birding. And we’re so excited that you chose to participate in this project, but they’re a little nervous. So I’d love if you could share some resources to get people started about learning about the birds that they might find in their area and how they can start to figure out how to identify them.

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Yes. First of all, good on anybody who is beginning their journey into watching and enjoying birds. We’re very happy to have you. And all of your observations are important. They all matter. They all count. They’re all special. So try to take that nervous energy that you might have and just kind of put it aside and know that you’re in good company with non-judgmental welcoming folks.

And yes, many of you are probably watching birds in your backyard for GBBC, which is great if that is your choice, and trust and know that you probably know well more than you think you do, especially if you have been watching them. You just haven’t maybe contributed them to a project before. So trust yourself and share with us what you see, which is really exciting. And some of you might see something brand new or very new and different for GBBC, which is excellent.

One of the reasons why we have the Merlin Bird ID app tool for submissions is because that’s a great tool for beginners to use. You will only record a bird– one bird at a time on Merlin, but it will be a really good opportunity for you to test your own skills and see, am I getting these birds, do I know the names of these birds that I’m seeing. So that’s a really great tool for those of you who are brand new. Really consider trying to go through the Merlin Bird app for the first identification. Whether you’re using the sound ID or the step by step questions or taking a picture, they’re all great ways to warm up to this event.

We also have a lot of great resources online. Audubon has a bird identification app that can be used. That’s a great one. We also have some posters. There’ll be some links that are dropped in for birds that are tricky like, sparrows or birds that are really commonly seen at feeders. Some of those imagery-based resources might be really helpful just to have on hand to reference during the count.

And then finally, know that we all make mistakes. I don’t know how many times I have misidentified a bird. It’s OK. Rest easy, not a big deal. Some people have requested wanting a checklist ahead of time. And so if you scroll to the bottom of the participate page on the GBBC main page, there’s actually a little video that’ll show you how to download a checklist from your state, province, or territory. So it’s pretty broad, but it will give you all the birds that are seen in your region during that time of year in February. So feel free to use that. That’s another tool that might be useful for people who are new to this.

[Chelsea Benson] Awesome. Thank you. And I want to cover this one more really basic question, Becca, that I was hoping that you might answer. Somebody asked in the chat, what’s the objective for the Great Backyard Bird Count? What are the Cornell Lab, Birds Canada, National Audubon Society, what are we hoping to get out of having this event?

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] That’s a great question. Well, I think all organizations being really strong conservation– bird conservation organizations would say getting more people excited and paying attention to the natural world is really one of our fundamental goals, and specifically obviously connecting to birds. But even more or just as important as that, bringing new people into the fold is the actual observations that people are submitting.

That’s real data that scientists can then turn around and use to ask a variety of questions. And they have the data from the eBird database, which is where all of the GBBC entries go. Whether you submit them through Merlin or eBird, they go into the eBird database. That data was used by researchers in over 160 publications last year.

So these are research questions that are being asked and answered because of the massive amount of data that we get from bird participation. So thank you. And it’s both fun and it goes to a bigger purpose, which is to understand more about what’s going on with our bird populations.

[Chelsea Benson] Awesome. Thank you so much. So we talked about a little bit of overview, what’s the GBBC. Becca gave us some great resources for trying to figure out. If you’re new to birding, you can use the Merlin app. Audubon has some great online tools for bird identification. You can try to find a checklist for your area, so you can start to learn the birds. But the other big part of the Great Backyard Bird Count is counting the birds that you’re seeing.

Kerrie, I would love if you could walk us through how do people go about counting birds. Can they count birds that fly over? Can they count birds that they hear? What about watching at a feeder versus going for a walk? All those kind of little nuances, can you kind of walk us through the counting process?

[Kerrie Wilcox] Well, we want you to count all the birds that you see or hear. This includes birds that are flying over. It includes birds like, a black capped chickadee that you’re just hearing in your backyard, but you don’t see it. We want you to count this. So really your count is the best estimate of all the birds you’ve seen or heard in the area that you’ve sampled.

If you go for a walk, keep track of how far you’re walking, and then keep a running tally of all the birds that you see during your walk. So if at the beginning, you see a small flock of say three chickadees, record that. And later on, you see five, add that to your count. So it’s the best estimate of all the birds that you saw or heard during that time period that you sampled in your location. And each time you go for a walk in a different location or at a different time period, we want you to submit a new checklist.

[Chelsea Benson] Awesome. What about birds of the feeder because that gets complicated, right? You were just talking about that little chickadee. That little chickadee makes lots of trips to the feeder. Is it one chickadee, or is it 20 chickadees?

[Kerrie Wilcox] That’s right. That’s why if you’re doing a feeder count, we only want you to record the highest number of each species that you see at a single time. So if you have a chickadee coming back and forth, back and forth to your feeder constantly, but you never see more than one chickadee, at the end of your counting time period, you’re only going to record one because you only know for sure that there was one chickadee. You could put that as the slide up.

[Chelsea Benson] Yeah, I do. Kerrie made this really great little tool to help us remember how to count birds at the feeder. So I’m going to share that now.

[Kerrie Wilcox] So I like to do my Great Backyard Bird Count, my first count during my morning coffee. So while I’m sitting down and I look out the window, my first glance, I’m seeing one pine siskin. So I would write that down. And then a few minutes later when I glance out the window, there are six. So at the end of that time period that I’m counting, I would record the maximum number, which is six pine siskins. So you would do that for each of the species that’s coming to your feeder.

So for the Great Backyard Bird Count, the feeder count, we also want you to count any of the birds that are flying overhead. So if you have a red tailed hawk flying over your feeder, please count that as well. And we want you to count birds that you can recognize the difference.

So some birds are sexually dimorphic, which means that you can tell the males and the females apart like, a northern cardinals, the male is red and the female is kind of an olive green. So if you have them coming to your feeder but not at the same time, you clearly know there are two different individuals. So please count that because it’s your best estimate of all the birds that you saw or heard during your count period.

So if you’re using Merlin to enter your bird, please enter each bird that you see with the Merlin Bird ID app. If you’re using eBird, please enter a checklist for the time period that you counted. And you could use eBird online or the eBird app. And each time you do a count, please enter a new checklist. So if I do my count during my coffee in the morning, and then later during– I’ll do another count at lunch, that’s a separate checklist.

[Chelsea Benson] Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And one thing we should note with Merlin, as Becca kind of alluded to earlier, if you are using Merlin for the Great Backyard Bird Count, you won’t be able to say like, you saw five pine siskins. You can only say that you saw a single individual at that time. If you want to be able to do a really good count, you’re going to want to enter your information with eBird because it allows you to share the number that you saw at that time. Am I getting that right, Kerrie?

[Kerrie Wilcox] Yes, that’s correct.

[Chelsea Benson] And if you’re already using Merlin and eBird, you don’t have to do anything special. You’re just– you’re participating by counting on those four days that are coming up.

[Kerrie Wilcox] That’s correct. Any checklist that is submitted through eBird on the weekend counts towards the Great Backyard Bird Count or through Merlin.

[Chelsea Benson] Yeah. So what I wanted to do next is kind of practice what Kerrie walked us through. So we’re going to our audience. We’re going to have a little audience participation. These are birds from the Cornell Lab feeder watch Cam. We have a goldfinch, downy woodpecker, a hairy woodpecker, a house finch, and a red-bellied woodpecker. You can see their little profile pictures here. And we’re going to play a clip, I’ll play it twice, of these birds at a feeder.

So remember, you’re going to count the highest number of individuals you see at one time, and then I’ll put up a poll to see if we can guess right. There’s a couple tricks. A hairy woodpecker has a really long bill compared to the downy. And the goldfinch has the black and white kind of on its wings, which can help you differentiate it from the house finch. And then the other little trick is to keep an eye on the left side of the video, because there’s some birds kind of hanging out on the sides of the feeders.

All right. I’m going to play our video. I’ll play it twice and write down the birds that you’re seeing and how many you saw. This is a great practice for counting for our Great Backyard Bird Count.


[Chelsea Benson] All right. We’ll play it one more time.


[Chelsea Benson] OK. Let’s see how we did. I’m going to put up a poll. And I’m going to put it up on Zoom and in YouTube. And you’ll see something pop up into your screen. And you will enter your guess into the pole. If it’s covering the screen, you can move it. If you need to make the screen bigger, you can. So I’m launching the poll. How many species? Is it A, B, C, D, you have no idea? I’ll give you another 20 seconds. We have a lot of great guesses happening.

All right. The voting is slowing down. So I’m going to end. And you all are good, three goldfinches, it was kind of tricky right there flying all over, one downy woodpecker. Now let me pull up. There we go. One hairy woodpecker, one house Finch, and one red bellied woodpecker. Excellent job. That was fun. All right. Let me– we’ll back up aware.

All right. So we’ve talked about counting the birds and we created a few checklists. And people, let’s say, maybe they watched at their feeder. And then later in the day, they counted again on a walk or they sat at a park bench and counted. So Brooke, could you kind of walk us through? We’ve identified. We’ve counted. Now what do we do with all this information that we’ve just collected? Where should it go?

[Brooke Bateman] Yes, happy to give that information. So there’s a few different ways that you can submit your data. So here on the participate page, if you scroll down to the bottom, you can see the three different ways that you can enter your data and step by step instructions.

So the first way, especially really good if you’re new to bird watching or bird identification, is the Merlin Bird ID app. That one, you can look at different birds, but also has that sound recording feature, which is great, especially if you’re new to identifying birds by hearing. Another option is through the eBird Mobile app. So those that are returning to the count are familiar with eBird. There’s an eBird Mobile app that uses the phone’s internal GPS to quickly identify where you are and where you’re birding.

But you can also keep track of your counts on paper. We do have an option to submit your data later on the desktop or laptop. And so you can use the paper when you’re out in the field to identify the birds and write them down, and then come back after you’ve done your survey and enter it on your home computer. We also have a checklist of birds that you can check out that might help doing that.

I also want to highlight that on this web page, there’s also a how to participate and a walkthrough, a step by step for each of these different options, as well as help for different tips, as well as frequently asked questions page, which has a lot of information here. If you can’t find out the question here, just dig through and hopefully you’ll get your answer. And lastly, I do want to elevate that we are giving away a pair of size binoculars to one random participant who submits one or more sightings to Merlin or a 15-minute count to eBird over that four-day period.

[Chelsea Benson] Excellent. That’s a great incentive to participate.

[Brooke Bateman] Yeah.

[Chelsea Benson] So Brooke, Kerrie, Becca, thank you all for giving us the overview of what the GBBC is, how to find birds and count them and enter their data. We’re going to spend the next few minutes talking with two guests panelists about birding with kids and community engagement. And then we’ll bring back our three project coordinators to do a big Q&A session. So welcome, Emily. Nice to see you.

[Emily Connor] Hello. Thanks for having me.

[Chelsea Benson] So Emily Connor is joining us. She’s the education manager at the Audubon Center at Riverlands, which is located just North of Saint Louis, Missouri. Emily finds really fun and creative ways to involve people in the GBBC, which we’re going to learn about shortly.

And we’re also joined by Marisa Saelzler. Hi, Marisa. Marisa is an educator and a media specialist at an elementary school in Ohio. Marisa loves exploring the intersection of literacy, technology, coding birds, nature. You name it. She’s all about it. So we’re so excited to learn from both of you today.

So first off, Emily, what fun things does Riverland have planned for the Great Backyard Bird Count? Because one of the things that we wanted to talk about today is how people might bird as a group and some fun ways to find community while you’re out there birding. So what do you have planned?

[Emily Connor] Absolutely. So every year leading up to the Great Backyard Bird Count, we really like to try to rally a lot of our community members in the region to practice birding and going out to important areas for birds. So I’m just going to share my screen here and show you a little bit about what we do. We try to make birding as fun as we can, and kind of like a fun activity for groups of people.

So what we actually do in Saint Louis is we’ve created this program called Bows for Birds. And it’s essentially a Saint Louis region wide bird themed scavenger hunt. One thing that I think people find challenging is that birds have wings, and they can fly off and move very quickly. So what we’ve done is actually create these wooden painted birds that are hidden in different locations all around the region, at some birding hotspots, some great parks.

And so this is a really great way for kids, especially to get involved, where you can look at the bird and pull out those important identification features to identify them. So learning about what those local birds are to gear up for the Great Backyard Bird Count. And one way that we try to make it really fun is we include raffle prizes. So folks that participate can get gift cards to local areas, a pair of binoculars, a bird lover’s kit, field guides, and things like that.

And so just to show you how our community has been getting involved this year, these are photos from folks in the Saint Louis region that have gone out to these parks and are finding these clues and trees and these wooden birds. And as you can see, it’s really for all ages. We even had one group go out with their dogs. And so it’s really for everybody.

And I think whenever you are able to bring groups together, it gives you more opportunities for education and to share those resources. So we’ve had folks that are both going out to look for the bird and then getting to meet new people in your community and share your passion for birds. So that’s been really exciting.

[Chelsea Benson] That’s awesome. Thank you so much for sharing it. You kind of touched on this a little bit. But as an educator, what do you feel are the advantages of people coming out and joining these group events?

[Emily Connor] Yeah. I think coming together as a community or a larger group really gives you more opportunity to rally behind one another to become a part of something bigger, which is what the Great Backyard Bird Count is. So really, it’s the idea that together, we can count and report more birds than if we say had every scientist in the world do it, we would never collect the data that we can as a group or a community together.

It’s also really exciting because it gives you the opportunity to share your experiences with one another and learn more about some really great local hotspots, and where people like to go birding. So definitely, I think those are some benefits to participating in groups.

[Chelsea Benson] Do you have any suggestions about how people might find groups near them to participate in some of these events?

[Emily Connor] Absolutely. As you saw on the Great Backyard Bird Count website, eBird is an awesome place to go to check out what are some local hotspots, what are people currently seeing. This is just a screenshot from eBird if you look at the hotspot where I’m located here in the Saint Louis region. So you can see what other observers are seeing birds and what species are around, but what I really love is you can also go on social media and even check out community maps. So if you go to the Great Backyard Bird Count, you can look at a map of community birding where folks can submit public events that are taking place all around the world.

So as you can see, you can scroll through the map and look at different locations no matter where you are located in the world, there are many, many activities that you can connect with, or if you’re planning an event, you can put that information on here to share with others. So I think this is a really great tool or resource if you’re looking for some type of community program to get involved with, especially if this is your first year doing the Great Backyard Bird Count. So I like to encourage folks to check that out.

[Chelsea Benson] Awesome. Thank you so much for sharing that. And I did see that somebody was wondering if you could drop the link to your Bow’s page into the chat, that would be awesome because somebody might be around your area that wants to participate.

[Emily Connor] Absolutely. I’ll drop it in.

[Chelsea Benson] Yeah. Thank you so much. So Marisa, you’re an educator and a parent. And Marisa spent the summer at the Cornell Lab and is super fun, really creative, and you have great ways of connecting kids with birds and keeping their interest. So maybe they’ll even participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count. But it’s kids. Birding with kids, who knows what could happen, right? I would love if you could share with our audience some of the tricks that you’ve learned along the way, both as an educator and as a parent.

[Marisa Saelzler] Oh my goodness. Thank you so much for the warm welcome. I love that. I’m going to share my screen with all of you. And a picture starts off with my kids at the Ithaca Children’s Garden. So like Chelsea shared, I’m a mom and teacher. And so I just see this beautiful blend between family in the classroom with birds.

And how it started for us is we put up a feeder at our house, and then my kids started trying to ID the birds. So we started putting pictures up around our window of the birds. So that way, as we ID’d them, it was familiar that we were like, oh, this was the cardinal that we saw, and they could refer back to it.

So what’s really neat is a lot of the things that I’m sharing with you today are either things that you can make at home or some things that you can order through other sources. So if you would want to put up pictures of birds from your area, you can print those out on all about birds. You can use your Merlin tool to see what birds are in your area. And that will help you narrow it down for which ones to put up, but then it makes it a little bit easier whenever you see a flash of color, you know kind of what category it might be in.

At school, I have a feeder station window and I use these amazing backyard bird flashcards that were made by the lab. And they are wonderful to use for Bird ID. And on the back, there’s information on them. And so as a teacher, you can use that as an informational mentor text.

So that’s a great way to connect with your informational reading and writing that you’re doing in the classroom. And there’s also a QR code on it so you can scan it to hear what the birds different calls sound like. They’re just really, really cool. And it’s so neat to see some birds that you’ve never seen before and hear what they sound like and read a little bit about them.

I always supply some field guides. That’s been something that’s really fun and engaging for kids. I have two categories I like to put them in. One is more browsable, that’s if you’re sitting down and looking through it and you’re looking through it and enjoying it. And then there’s some that are more active, that when you’re out in the field, these are the ones that have what you need to ID that bird, and then you can learn about it more later whenever you get inside.

One of the things that I love to do with kids both home and at school is I have these pocket guides, and they are laminated, they have a plastic coating on them. They’re great because if they get dropped in the mud, you just wipe them off, snow, any conditions, you can take them outside, if it starts raining.

But one of the things I love doing with these is taking out a dry erase marker, and then kids can circle what bird they see. And then it’s a great time to talk about tally marks, your counting, and then how tally marks translate in counting. And so that’s a big part of our Backyard Bird Count is counting the birds and talking about the different ways we can count and represent that.

A way that you can make these at home is if you get a plastic sleeve, you can order these or get them at an office supply store. You can print off the pictures from all about birds and put the birds from your area on a page and slide it in there. And then you can write on top of the plastic sleeve. So you don’t even have to buy anything. You can make things at home and just make it custom for what you need and what you’re seeing in your area.

And it also helps that when you make your own like this, it’s not as overwhelming. So if you’re starting with a younger audience, then maybe you’re like, we’re going to start with four birds on here, instead of all these birds. So just anything that kind of starts seeing, identifying, and getting interested in what’s going on around you.

One of the things I do at school and at home is kids recording what they’re seeing, keeping track of their observations. So at school, we make our field notebooks out of recycled materials. You can do it out of cereal boxes, paper bags. And we punch holes on the side, and then we sew up the side with threads.

So we take recycled materials, fill note pages in, and that’s how we can keep track of our thinking and observations. And what’s really nice about that is you can see how your thinking has changed over time, how observations change in different conditions and different seasons. So it’s neat to not only recognize what you’re seeing, but also to be able to go back and look and compare.

I use the feeder cam a lot at school whenever we’re practicing. What I love about it is just like we did when we did the clip and you were IDing what you saw, that’s a great way can practice. And you can pause it if you see a bird and the kids can work on IDing it. That kind of helps with building those skills of pattern recognition, size and shape, all those things that are important and help us to ID birds.

And using real tools is such a key for kids, for anyone really. My kids love using binoculars, and also taking pictures. They love taking pictures. And what’s really cool about pictures is it can slow down that moment. Because sometimes birds come and land and then they’re gone.

If you capture a picture, it gives you time to look and really know what you saw. Instead of saying, oh, I think I saw this, you can actually go back, look at the picture. And you can put it in Merlin Bird ID, which I love. I love– what we try to do is ID it ourselves first with a field guide, and then we can pop the picture in there and check and see if we’re right.

And so it’s a really great tool to learn new birds and to also just have some confidence when you’re out there that you’re like, I don’t know what this is, but I can figure it out. So I’m hoping that everyone gets some time out there learning, exploring, and connecting because the Great Backyard Bird Count is such a great place for families and educators. Everyone really to connect and just celebrate birds together.

[Chelsea Benson] Thanks, Marisa, for sharing those really cool resources. Someone was asking, the recycled notebooks, it looked like you were using lots of different cardboard. But in the middle, was it just regular notebook paper, or did you also make special paper, or what does it look like inside?

[Marisa Saelzler] I make a custom sheet for– so the page that was up on the slide, then I make those and print those so that it has the information for like, name, date, weather conditions. And I actually will share this out to have a custom one made for people if they want to print them for a Great Backyard Bird Count. So a free one that will be able to be downloaded if people want to make their own at home.

[Chelsea Benson] And then when you were showing one of the slides with the field guides with the more like, I’d say friendly looking field guide, what guide was that that you were showing? People were curious.

[Marisa Saelzler] The browsable guide, that’s a National Geographic guide. And so those have more like pop-ups, fun facts. And so in the classroom, we talk a lot about text and text features and how when you want to find something fast, what that looks like, and then when I’m sitting at home or enjoying or browsing, what that feels like, but both are great to use anytime.

[Chelsea Benson] And Marisa and Emily, when you’re working with people who are new to birding, how do you help– guide them through using binoculars? Especially for new people or for kids, do you have a type of binocular you like to use? What are some tips?

[Emily Connor] Yeah. I would definitely say, if you’re working with kids, using a smaller pair of binoculars is a really good idea. It just fits their face better, and it’s a little bit easier to adjust. So what I like to do is walk through the different parts of a binocular. We have where you can adjust your focus, which is typically where your index finger lies. We show which side of the binoculars you look out of.

Almost all kids are going to want to look at binoculars backwards because it makes everything seem really far away. So you can let them test that out. But then I like to have students look at an object, like maybe a tree in front of you with your eyes, and then we’ll have them raise your binoculars up while you’re looking. And that really helps them navigate how to locate something through your binoculars. It can be really challenging.

So it’s important to be very encouraging, give them a lot of opportunity to practice, and then step in and help if they’re in need of that. But I would recommend– we’ve used Bushnell binoculars, but also I think the Nocs, by Nocs are very nice size for kids. And smaller versions of the vortex binoculars work really great as well.

[Marisa Saelzler] Emily, you’re such a pro at explaining it. You did such a beautiful job explaining how to use them. And the only thing I have to add just to support what Emily was saying is Nocs are what I use in the classroom and at home. And the reason being is they are like practically indestructible. And if something happens, the company is so great at following up. So when I’ve worked with them, they’ve had that shared vision.

And I had Nocs that I was using out in the field. And my own kids picking them up, playing with them have not been able to break them. They’re designed to be on the go. So it’s been great using those. And they have a photo rig you can put on it. One of the things that I learned is how to take a picture through the binoculars. So that’s a really cool thing too is combining those– the picture with the binocular and they have a tool that makes it a little bit easier.

[Chelsea Benson] That’s really helpful. And we have talked a lot in the last minute about using binoculars, but I just want to reiterate to our audience that you don’t have to use binoculars. They’re a great tool, but they’re not necessary to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Marisa had a really great suggestion of using your camera, if a count feels overwhelming to take a picture of what you’re seeing or a video and you can go back and look at it. Somebody put in the chat like, there’s a bunch of birds on the telephone wire. Can I just take a picture of it? Of course, take a picture. If it’s going to help you figure out what’s there and how many there are, use the tools available to you to do that.

All right. I am going to bring back our project leaders. We’re going to spend the next 20 minutes, 15 minutes going through some questions that have been coming into the YouTube chat, the Zoom Q&A, and also people submitted questions ahead of time when they registered.

We won’t have time to get even to a small percentage of your very numerous questions, which I’m so excited to see that people are this excited about the GBBC and asking tons of questions. I’m sorry that we won’t get to all of them today, but we will do our best. So I did see that there was some chatter like, what’s– we talked– Brooke mentioned, you don’t need to– 15 minutes is like the minimum. Is there like an ideal amount of time to count?

[Brooke Bateman] I think the ideal amount of time is the amount of time that you have to participate. I think any amount of time is going to give valuable information about the birds in your area. So yes, 15 minutes is the minimum. But if you have more time to spend, you can cover different areas, submit them as separate checklists. So yeah, whatever amount of time you have to submit, I think would be my answer to that question.

[Chelsea Benson] I think that is a fabulous answer. And then same thing, Kerrie, people are like, do I have to participate in all four days? Because it does run from a Friday to a Monday. Do you need to participate in all four days? How does that part work?

[Kerrie Wilcox] Just participate, minimum of 15 minutes on one of the days. You don’t need to participate on four. And that 15 minutes creates a great little snapshot of the birds in your particular location. So that is fantastic if that’s all the time you have to spend. We really want to know what birds you’re seeing.

[Chelsea Benson] Yeah. I think that’s one of the nice things about this event is it’s really flexible. Marisa, I’ve had a few educators reach out. And they were wondering, what’s the best way to incorporate account into the classroom day? When you participate in the GBBC, how do you like to organize it for your students?

[Marisa Saelzler] Well, I think a great way that works for a lot of people is sometimes teachers take a brain break with their class, and they’re doing something a movement break. If you do a quick walk outside as a class, if you can go outside, even going to the feeder window, that’s a great time that you get the benefits. You can do a count together while taking a break, and then going back and being refreshed.

[Chelsea Benson] That’s a really great suggestion. I love the little brain breaks, move our bodies, look at something new and exciting. Yeah, that’s a great way to frame it. So Emily, when you’re counting with a group for the Great Backyard Bird Count, some people are asking like, how do we know it’s not a duplicate count? If there’s five people on eBird and they’re submitting their data, how does that work when you’re part of a group event?

[Emily Connor] Yeah. So actually through eBird, when you’re submitting your checklist or your observation list for the Great Backyard Bird Count, there is a section that does ask you if you are going with a group and how many people in that group there are. So typically, it’s a good rule of thumb to have one point person in your group that is going to be the submitter of the day. And then they can indicate how many people they were with when they were doing the checklist.

And another great thing is you can include your friends email addresses on that checklist. And that report or that list of all the species you’ve seen are going to get emailed directly to the other participants in your group. So I’d say it’s a good rule of thumb before you start, nominate the person that’s going to submit online, share your email addresses, and then everybody can get connected in that way.

[Chelsea Benson] Great. Yeah. There’s a lot of ways to prevent duplication when you submit counts. So don’t worry about it. Submit what you see and eBird has the tools to it out for us. Thank goodness for all those programmers out there. So let’s see what else. Kerrie, you are also a coordinator for Project FeederWatch, which is a different type of count.

And people are wondering, if I count for the GBBC, does it also account for FeederWatch? And if you’re not participating in FeederWatch, our audience, this is a little nuanced question. I apologize. But I see it coming up in the Q&A and the chat. So I just would love if you could clarify, what is FeederWatch and how is it different than the Great Backyard Bird Count.

[Kerrie Wilcox] Well, the counting protocol is really similar between FeederWatch and the Great Backyard Bird Count. So FeederWatch is over a two-day count period, and you’re doing the highest number that you saw over the two days. Whereas the Great Backyard Bird Count, it’s for a specific time period like your morning coffee, if you’re doing a feeder count.

And another difference between FeederWatch and the Great Backyard Bird Count is the Great Backyard Bird Count wants you to count the flock of Canada geese that’s going overhead or hawks that are flying over. And we also want you to count birds that you can recognize that are different from each other. So the sexually dimorphic birds or birds where you can tell the males and the females apart.

So that’s the difference between the two of them. So if you participate– if you’re also participating in FeederWatch this weekend, we want you to submit your counts in both locations. And I think I’ve covered all the differences. Anyways, it’d be fantastic if you can submit counts for both.

[Chelsea Benson] Yeah. Thanks for getting into that. I just wanted to address it since it was coming up a lot in the Q&A. Becca, does somebody have to be what we would call an ebirder, so already like they– to participate in this event?

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] No, they do not, though, yehey for everybody who is an ebirder. And a lot of times somebody who is an ebirder is somebody who’s submitting maybe year round or multiple times a year. So they’re kind of regularly using the eBird tool, whether it’s the mobile app or the desktop. You do not have to be in that category. This could be the one time, the one 15-minute block that you want to watch birds and submit them to us.

So you, again, can choose your tool that you want to use, either Merlin or eBird. It’s all saved to the same database. Merlin is just considered what are called incidental sightings, meaning you saw that species of bird in that location on that particular day. But no, you don’t need to be a regular contributor to participate. In fact, that’s part of the allure of the GBBC is that it’s an opportunity to invite new people into watching birds.

[Chelsea Benson] Sticking with the theme of using technology, we have a few people that submitted question on behalf of someone else. Like, my grandpa really wants to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count, but he does not have a phone or a computer. Can they still participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count? And what are some tips for them to get dialed in to submitting and sharing their counts?

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Yes. This is a really good question. And I fielded this already with a few people through email too. The bad part of the story is that we do require data to be entered into one of the tools. So that’s the bad news. The good news is that this is a great opportunity for you to connect.

Maybe it’s your grandpa, who you’re just going to talk to over the phone and they’re going to tell you their list. And you know where they live and you know the times they watched. And you’re going to enter that data for your grandfather because he just really doesn’t want to add another app to his phone, or he doesn’t want to open up his phone on the weekend to do this.

So get with your family, get with your friends, different people at different technology levels that feel comfortable and partner up. This happens a lot. We have a lot of people that have data entered for others. Just make sure that the location is correct. So you don’t want to say that you’re– where you are if that’s not where the birds are, and make sure that the start and end time. If you’re going to be entering it into eBird, we ask for start and end time and specific location.

And then another great tool is Audubon has chapters all over the United States. And I think we’ll drop a link in. If you really just don’t want to connect or weave in friends and family, there are people in the larger birding community that sometimes will enter lists for people in their Audubon constituency, chapter constituency.

So reach out to them. They might have somebody who’s agreed to accumulate data and enter it for people. So don’t feel too discouraged. I totally understand that fear or just not interested in technology, but you really love the birds. There are ways to still get that data to count if you would like to share it.

[Chelsea Benson] I’m getting some questions about different languages that the GBBC materials might be available in. Kerrie, you’re part of Birds Canada. So you have a big French speaking population. Do we support other languages with the Great Backyard Bird Count?

[Kerrie Wilcox] Yes. If you go to the home page, in the top right-hand corner, there’s arrow with languages. And you can select the instructions in English, Spanish, French and Portuguese. And we also have the social media images available in all those four languages as well. So check out the website, click on that arrow in the top right-hand corner, and you’ll find materials in French.

[Chelsea Benson] That’s awesome. Yes. And kudos to the Great Backyard Bird Count for expanding their language offerings. It’s really valuable for people participating from around the world. And I know you’re always striving to include more languages. So Thank. You for doing that effort. Currently– oh sorry. Go ahead.

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] I just have one quick thing. And even though on the GBBC page there are only the four languages, when you use the Merlin Bird ID tool and eBird, they are translated in many, many more languages. So when you actually use those tools– I can’t even tell you how many eBird– I think there’s almost 30 different languages. So don’t be discouraged. I apologize that we don’t have all the pages translated, but the tools themselves are translated in many, many languages.

[Chelsea Benson] Great. Awesome. Brooke, people are asking, why is the Great Backyard Bird Count in February? Of all times of year, why are we counting birds in February? It’s not a big time for like, migration. Can you clue us in why February?

[Brooke Bateman] Yeah. So February is actually a great period because it doesn’t cover migration. It’s a good period when all the birds that are going to be here in winter are stable, they’re in their locations for their wintering period, and so that gives us really a good snapshot of how birds are doing in winter. If you start to get into that spring period, then we’re going to start seeing migrants. And that’s going to lead into the breeding season. So we really want to get the birds that are here in our winter period and February is a great time of year to do that.

[Chelsea Benson] Awesome. Thank you. We have some questions about feeder setups. Marisa, how do you set up your feeder at school? What does it look like? What are you putting out there to attract birds to that school yard?

[Marisa Saelzler] Well, what’s– I’m so excited to share about this because it was such a fun exploration, because at school, we actually added feeders one at a time so that we could talk about how different seed attracts different birds and how there’s different feeder types. So we started with just putting out the sunflower seeds to start, and then branched out from that, and then also suet feeders.

And what was really fun is I was waiting for a squirrel to get on the feeder because I was like, OK, they’re going to be so excited and want to talk about baffles and what we’re going to do. And instead the kids were so excited about the squirrel that they were like, oh my gosh, we need to put a squirrel feeder out. But what was cool is seeing that how you can problem solve when these things happen, and what you can do and how you can do different things.

So we’ve expanded and grown our seed. So we have safflower seed out there to get more cardinals out there. We do a suet, but we do a nut-free suet just because so many kids at school have nut allergies. So we make sure that we don’t have that in the school setting, but it’s neat for them to see how the different seeds attract different birds. And even on the back of the bag, there’s a chart they can look at and see that so that it’s like, OK, if we want to attract more of this kind of bird, this is what we need to do.

[Chelsea Benson] That’s awesome. I love how you incorporate a little beak adaptations into that lesson. That’s so fun. Kerrie, speaking of feeders, people are asking, how do you clean bird feeders effectively? Because we do worry about spreading disease at feeders. We’ve seen like salmonellosis or house finch eye disease. What are your recommendations for making sure that people’s feeders are clean and safe for birds that visit them?

[Kerrie Wilcox] Well, if you feed birds, it’s really important to take good care of your feeders. So we recommend that you take down your feeders every two weeks, empty the feed, give them a good scrub with soap and water, soak them in a mild bleach solution, and also rake up the seeds underneath your feeders as well, because the pile of seeds can accumulate under there. And if they become moldy or have droppings in them, you can be spreading the disease by leaving the seeds underneath your feeders as well.

So make sure you do a really good job cleaning up after the birds, so that you keep them safe. And if you see a bird with a disease– so some of the symptoms that you might see are they’re lethargic, the fluffed up, maybe crusty eyes or growths on their face, or they’re having trouble breathing, those are all symptoms of disease. And if you see a bird with disease at your feeders, it’s a good idea to take them down for about two weeks so that the birds disperse and they’re not spreading disease at your feeder.

[Chelsea Benson] Great. Good tips. Emily, when you’re out with a group, and maybe you don’t see many birds or maybe you only see sparrows or starlings or something that people aren’t excited about, people are asking, do you want to count all those non-native species?

[Emily Connor] Yeah, that’s a great question. And for the Great Backyard Bird Count, you want to count every single species that you’re able to identify. I think it’s important if you’re birding in a group to be as inclusive and encouraging as possible. And there’s really no bad bird. Even though there are invasive species like, the starling, that’s really important data that scientists would like to know what are the current populations of invasive species, and where are they been seen.

So even if it’s not your all time favorite bird, every bird that you can ID is contributing to really important information and data that’s going to help us better understand how birds are doing today. And always– if somebody says, oh, I just saw rob, you don’t say, oh, that’s an easy bird, whatever. You encourage them, because this could be their first time birding. And it really helps to get them excited and feel a part of a community and welcome in that group.

[Chelsea Benson] We love all birds. Becca, people are wondering, you see a huge flock of birds, whether that’s a bunch of sparrows under the feeder, or you’re out near a body of water and there’s just a mass of ducks or geese, what’s the best way to go about trying to figure out how many are there without like wanting to pull our hair out? Could walk us through figuring out how many birds are in a large flock? And I’m going to share my screen so Becca can talk us through this scenario.

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Yes. If you are in an area where you’re going to get a large flock or do you see large flocks regularly, know that I feel that pain. It can be very, very frustrating when you come across a beautiful flock of redheads such as this. So what I like to do when I see flocks is kind of like– as a good educator, any good educator does, break it down, break it down into chunks.

So I like to divide my image into four or three blocks. You can also do four, depending on how you like to do your math. So kind of break it down into a block and then count the amount of birds that are in that block. So let’s pause for a minute and just have everybody do that. Pick a block, one, two, or three, count how many birds you see in that block, and then you’re going to multiply that number in this case, by three, because we’ve broken it down into three. So let’s see how the audience does on this.

[Chelsea Benson] All right. I’m going to advance our slide because we’re going to do another poll.

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] OK.

[Chelsea Benson] So we’ll give them a second to do a rough count. Don’t go looking too fine into the detail here, but rough count. How many redheads are in this flock? I’m going to give people a minute to look through, count as best they can. And then in another 30 seconds, I’ll put up a poll. All right. I’m going to put up our poll. And if people want to guess, how many birds they think are in this flock, remember count one block and multiply it by three.

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] And Chelsea’s being really nice. This is all the same species. This can get really crazy when it’s multiple species. So I would say whatever the predominant species is, there usually is one in the flock, do the same thing, and then maybe do the same thing again, but with the other species that are maybe smaller in numbers.

[Chelsea Benson] And this is a good example of you saw this flock of birds and you’re like, oh, I can’t. Take a picture, and then you can go back and try to guess from there.

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Yep. That’s right.

[Chelsea Benson] So our audience is pretty divided between 100 and 200. And the votes are slowing down. So I’m going to give 10 more seconds, and then I’m going to end the poll. All right. So most people went for the 100, but the answer was 200.

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Very tricky.

[Chelsea Benson] There are like 60 some odd birds in each block. It’s so hard though on a screen to figure out, like a small screen if you’re watching on your phone or your iPad or something, but it’s a good little challenge for us. And then I just wanted to show this next photo because I saw a picture of this when I was trying to find a poll question, and I thought it was a lot of birds. How many birds are in this flock?

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Good luck with that one.

[Chelsea Benson] I know. So this flock occurred on Seneca Lake, which is one lake over from where Becca and I are located near Ithaca, New York. And I went to the eBird checklist for Jay McGowan because he saw this a couple of weeks ago. And the answer is 13,000 approximately. He did not count every bird, but he used the block count method to figure out what birds or how many birds were there. So thank you audience and Becca for humoring me with that poll.

All right. Let me just quickly glance through because we are two minutes over, but I’m just going to quickly glance through the Q&A. Please panelists speak up if you saw a question that you think we should jump on before– as we end here. Any reminders that you want to share with people? I think the biggest one is– oh, go ahead, Marisa.

[Marisa Saelzler] I just want to say I’m just so happy to see people from all different ages and backgrounds coming out because this is such a great way to connect. I was thinking about when you were talking about connecting with the tech, one of my favorite things I love hearing at school is how kids are connecting with a grandparent or a parent or someone that shares this interest with them, a new connection. So I’m really excited not only for the counting, but for the connections that are going to happen for everyone too.

[Chelsea Benson] Yeah. What a fun weekend and a fun way to meet people, to engage with your friends and family around birds. So Kerrie, Brooke, Becca, Emily, Marisa, thank you so much. It’s been a really fun hour chatting with you all. I can’t believe it’s already been an hour. We hope you all go out and count birds this long weekend.

Remember, the count starts Friday, the 16th, and runs through Monday, the 19th. At the end of the week, I’ll send an email out with the recording of this webinar. You can also find it archived on the Bird Academy’s open lecture page. It’ll be up there probably by the end of this afternoon. So you’ll be able to find it later today, if you want to share it with people.

And we have another webinar, if you can believe it, on Thursday, this Thursday, February 15 at 8:00 PM. If you want to brush up on North American Bird ID, we’re playing a really fun trivia game. So we’re going to test the Merlin Bird ID app against an experienced birder. He’s joining us from Birds Canada. So we’re excited for him to join our game. He’s going to test himself against the Merlin Bird ID app and the audience is going to participate too.

So you’ll get to guess what the birds are by photos and sounds for North American bird species. We’re putting the registration link in the chat. So you’ll be able to find it there, or if you go to that Bird Academy open lectures page, you can find the registration on there as well. So panelists, thank you so much. I really appreciate your time today and happy birding, everyone.

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Thank you, Chelsea.

[Chelsea Benson] Bye.

[Brooke Bateman] Bye.

End of transcript

Get ready to flock together for the 2024 Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC)! This annual four-day event is right around the corner. Join our webinar on Tuesday, Feb. 13 at 1 p.m. Eastern. Panelists will explain how to participate in this exciting global event and how participation might extend past your back door. Discover how to join a group taking part in the GBBC and explore fun ways to involve kids. From bird ID tips to counting birds with ease, this webinar is your ticket to an engaging and confident GBBC experience.