How you can become a part of the global Great Backyard Bird Count that begins from February 14 to 17

Head to your backyard and note down the birds that stop by. Your contribution to important data on birds is immeasurable

All you need to do is spend 20 minutes each day over four days (February 14 – 17) and write down the birds you see. If you do that you are a valuable contributor to the global Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). “The findings by every single participant of this activity counts” says P. Jeganathan of Tamil Birders Network, adding, “Did you know that it was during the GBBC in the U.S that birders learnt of the population and distribution of the Eurasian-collared Dove?”

Mittal Gala who is the Programme Co-ordinator of Bird Count India, an organisation that promotes bird listing, documentation and monitoring says, “The Great Backyard Bird Count was launched in 1988 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society in the US. Since 2013, this event is observed in many other countries including ours.” According to Jeganathan, there was a Christmas Bird Count in the US in the 80s that kick started the ‘stop hunting, start counting’ culture.

House sparrows  
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

This annual activity aims to answer important questions. How are birds distributed? Are they affected by changes in habitat and weather? Has the population been changing from year-to-year? “It also helps to disprove unscientific data,” says Jeganathan. For example, the house sparrows. “It was said the mobile towers brought down the population of the birds. This is not true. The mapping of sparrows during the bird count clearly shows them distributed across the world. The findings of the common birder goes a long way in conservation. It gives a picture of the current status of birds and whether they are threatened. For instance, in Kerala, the data from backyard bird count helped save the wetlands.”

“We have been actively participating for the last three years,” says K. Selvaganesh, who teaches English at Cinchona Government High School in Valparai. Along with his students, he won ebird’s Great Backyard Bird Count challenge 2017. They contributed 360 checklists of birds, the highest number in the bird count challenge, and recorded 111 species. They could do this because their school is located at an altitude of 1100 mts in the south of the Western Ghats, Anamalai Hills. This is a hotspot of birds, both endemic and migratory. “During the count we could study the migratory pattern and distribution of the Grey Wagtail. It comes from the Himalayan region to the Southern part of Peninsular India. The cumulative data from across the world helped us track its path.”

Mittal says the objective is not just to record bird species but also to get an understanding of the common birds around us. “Before GBBC, if someone asked us what was the most common bird species in India we did not have a clear answer. But now we can now say with confidence that the two of the most common species across the country are the Red-vented Bulbul and Common Myna. The data has helped to understand our birds better. It has also initiated new people in bird watching and bird monitoring, who have gone on to help with conservation efforts.”

Take notes!

  • From February 1 4 to 17. Be it your backyard, a garden, a wetland or wildlife reserve – you can count birds anywhere in the world and from any location. Go birding for at least 15 minutes, counting and noting down the species you see and hear. It doesn’t matter if you can’t identify every bird — what you can describe good enough!
  • Login to www.ebird.org/india and submit your list
  • eBird is an online platform where birdwatchers can enter their bird observations. It acts like an online notebook where one can enter date, time, location, species and the count of each species you see during the birding excursion. It helps you maintain lists, add photographs and birdcalls.
  • If you have an android device, download eBird app. Create an account and install the India pack. Set preferences relevant to India. Submit a list.
  • Since it started in 2013 there has been an increase in the number of bird watchers and check lists each year. Of the 13.7 million records from India on eBird, one million have been uploaded during the GBBCs (2013 to 2019). In the 2019 edition alone, the GBBC engaged over 1,786 birders who uploaded over 22,273 lists and reported 852 species
  • To know more about the global event, visit https://gbbc.birdcount.org/ and for India event https://birdcount.in/event/gbbc2020/
  • For queries, write to [email protected]

R. Mohammed Saleem of Environment Conservation Group also believes that the count will initiate more people into birding. He himself has been a part of the GBBC India for many years. “A number of educational institutions as well as corporates take part in their campus. Some of them of go on to become regular bird watchers,” he says. Saleem says the e-Bird app is a handy tool as it lists out birds in a particular locality. “You have to briefly describe the activity, if the bird was eating, nesting or fighting or taking off and if it was a male or a female. You can also upload bird calls on the app. During one such bird count activities, we observed the nesting of Black-naped monarch flycatcher at Walayar.”

Saleem and his team also documented the Black Baza at Sadivayal near Siruvani. “It’s a winter visitor and we saw more than 10 of them. When this data is correlated with other data from across the globe we get a population mapping of the bazas. A number of studies of Amur Falcons that migrates from Russia and Siberia to Africa via Nagaland in India was also facilitated by the bird count.”

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