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Around the Lab

First Global Great Backyard Bird Count Shatters Records

article spread
By Marshall Iliff and Pat Leonard
Photograph by Tim J. Hopwood via Birdshare

They watched in Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Guatemala, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, and beyond. Bird watchers in 109 countries submitted their checklists when the annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) took on the world for the first time in February. Watchers set all kinds of new records, counting more than 34 million birds on more than 134,000 checklists and recording more than 3,600 species—one-third of the world’s 10,000 bird species. All this was made possible by integrating the GBBC with the eBird data-entry system, which has been collecting observations from around the world since 2010.

North American Highlights

The GBBC has been a hit for 15 years in the United States and Canada. This year produced another bumper crop of participants from the two countries, who filed more than 130,000 lists online, far outstripping last year’s total of more than 104,000 lists.

Irrupting winter finches were the headliners, their movements into the United States dubbed a superflight because of the huge numbers that streamed south, reflecting a natural downturn in crops of conifer cones and other seeds in Canada. The Common Redpoll, with its jaunty red cap, was the most prominent irruptive finch during the GBBC and reached an amazing 36 states. Its frosty northern cousin, the Hoary Redpoll, usually stays in Canada, but was reported in at least 11 states.

Other North American highlights included the first GBBC reports of the Red-flanked Bluetail—a small Asian thrush. One of the birds was reported from Queens Park in Vancouver, Canada, where it has been spending the winter. (Another of these thrushes was reported from Japan.)

The colorful, crested Northern Lapwing was spotted for the GBBC in Georgia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. The same weather system that caused Hurricane Sandy to make landfall in the Northeast sent these European plovers off course, and apparently some are still surviving despite being so far from home.

Distant Lands

Outside of North America, the Eurasian Blackbird was the most frequently reported species, appearing on 216 lists from 20 countries. Some other exotic and beautiful birds reported included the White-throated Kingfisher, Red-wattled Lapwing, Green Bee-eater, Japanese Woodpecker, and Purple-rumped Sunbird. Most of these are Asian species that reached such high numbers because of the high GBBC participation in India.

In Central and South America, the Social Flycatcher was reported on 112 lists, followed closely by the Bananaquit, which also occurs in the Caribbean.

“This GBBC is a milestone for citizen science in so many respects—the number of species, diversity of countries involved, total participants, and number of individual birds recorded,” said Cornell Lab director John Fitzpatrick. “We hope this is just the start of something far larger, engaging the whole world in creating a detailed annual snapshot of how all our planet’s birds are faring as the years go by.”

Visit the GBBC website to read a detailed summary of this year’s historic count and to see the photo gallery. The GBBC is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audubon, with Canadian partner Bird Studies Canada. The count is made possible in part by founding sponsor Wild Birds Unlimited.

Living Bird Magazine

Spring 2013

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