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You and your kids can be citizen scientists in the Great Backyard Bird Count

Golden-crowned sparrow, a bird you might encounter in the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Fiona Cohen

Here’s a way for you and your kids to have fun outside, learn about birds, and participate in some important science.

The Great Backyard Bird Count takes place around the world on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Here’s how it works. Participants sign up here, and then spend at least 15 minutes in a spot of their choosing (it doesn’t have to be a backyard), being quiet, looking and listening to the world around, counting every bird they see or hear. Look all around: the bushes, the telephone wires, the fences, and up in the sky. If you come across a big flock of birds, find a way to guess the number. You can do it once, or several times over the weekend.

Experience isn’t necessary for this study.

If you want to submit your data, it is helpful for someone doing the count know birds, or be handy enough with a field guide to figure out most of them.

If you’re counting in a typical Seattle backyard, it’s good to know these species: American crow, starling, northern flicker, Anna’s hummingbird, American robin, pigeon, black-capped chickadee, chestnut-backed chickadee, bushtit, house sparrow, song sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, golden-crowned sparrow, Bewick’s wren, pine siskin, house finch, dark-eyed junco, spotted towhee, Steller’s jay, California scrub jay, varied thrush. You also might see a gull, but you needn’t be able to identify what species, particularly if it’s just flying by. (There are five gull species common to Seattle in February. Experienced birders can only tell them apart if they have a good view.)

You might come across a species that isn’t on this list, say, a Cooper’s hawk or a yellow-rumped warbler or a bald eagle. That’s the amazing thing about stopping to observe: you don’t know what is going to pop out of the background. In the end scientists will get valuable data about what kinds of birds live where, and you and your family will get to know your neighborhood a little better.


Fiona Cohen is the author of “Curious Kids Nature Guide: Explore the Amazing Outdoors of the Pacific Northwest.”

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