There are a lot of “counts” in birding – the Great Backyard Bird Count, Nestwatch, the Christmas Bird Count, Project FeederWatch, the Big Garden Birdwatch, the Global Big Day, the Aussie Backyard Bird Count, the Challenge Count, and many more events all over the world in every season. But what do all these counts do, and what type of birder are you if you don’t join in?
About Bird Counts
Different bird counts work in different ways, but in general they all involve counting birds at specific locations (either defined by the event or by each participant) for specific lengths of time on specific dates, which could range from just a few minutes to several hours, a full day, or even more. Some counts have a great deal of flexibility and can be more casually joined, while others are formal surveys with exacting procedures and protocols. The overall goal, however, is to provide a thorough count of local bird populations and to submit that data to a central authority for mass tabulation.
The Benefits of Bird Counts
The sheer amount of data collected during bird count events – lists, totals, and sightings records from thousands, if not tens of thousands, of participants in hundreds or thousands of different locations – can be staggering. But it is exactly that quantity of data that makes these events so very valuable. Because count dates and procedures are well understood, the data adds up to a reasonable snapshot of bird populations at that moment in time. The data from different years can then be compared to show population trends, range shifts, migration patterns, rarity sightings, and more. Altogether, that data helps to support…
- Conservation of critical habitats in sensitive areas
- Species-specific conservation initiatives and programs
- Management of game bird populations in hunting areas
- Funding for bird and wildlife conservation projects
- Alerts about dramatic population shifts and drops
Bird counts depend on mass participation to collect enough data to have this type of value. When the data from so many participants is correlated, it can become a fantastic resource for researchers, conservationists, wildlife biologists, bird rehabilitators, land management directors, and more.
No, You DON’T Have to Count
Obviously, participating in bird counts can have great value. As count events have grown at tremendous rates in recent years, thanks to social media and greater online connectivity to share data, there is great pressure in the birding world that you MUST join in. Who wouldn’t want to participate and be part of such a tremendous effort to help birds? If you don’t join in, do you really care about birds at all?
Don’t let anyone bully, coerce, or cajole you into that thinking. We all have our own considerations to make, and a single choice to not participate in an event has nothing to do with the quality or value of your own birding.
I have personally chosen not to participate in the Christmas Bird Count, for example. This is one of the oldest bird count events in the world, collecting data that is used by hundreds of scientists and researchers across the globe. But why haven’t I ever been part of it, spending the day birding for such a worthwhile cause?
- For a number of years, the only count date available where I lived also happened to be my wedding anniversary.
- I’m not particularly fond of winter temperatures and have extremely high sensitivity to cold – painfully so.
- The holiday period is already crazy, making it hard to carve out a day from family time and seasonal preparations.
- I don’t necessarily agree with all the politics or procedures from the count organization and its superstructure.
These are just my own reasons; many other birders may have health or budgetary concerns that interfere with their participation in counts, work or other obligations that take up that time, they may prefer just to enjoy their own backyard birds, they may not be familiar with the technology necessary to report count totals, or, quite frankly, they may just not be interested in the event. That’s all perfectly fine.
Your Birding Still Counts
Be Your Own Birder was hatched in part from the frustration of being told I wasn’t the right kind of birder. I tend to be easygoing, and in a world that takes offense at just about everything so easily these days, I’m prefer a live-and-let-live approach. But it is offensive to me to be told that I’m not a good birder because I don’t participate in bird counts.
I offer good food at clean feeders, have multiple water sources in my yard, avoid pesticide use, and plant bird-friendly landscaping. I own dozens of field guides and other birding books, enjoy bird-themed crafts, occasionally wear bird-themed shirts, and have bird nest earrings. I enjoy every bird I see, occasionally chase for specific birds, and delight in even the common visitors I find. I write bird articles for different clients, offer a free bird identification service, and have published a book about bird migration. But because I don’t “count” my birding isn’t supposed to count.
To that, I say a resounding NO. All birders make valuable contributions to birds, even if it is just filling a single feeder, putting up one lone bird house, or visiting one park, preserve, or nature center. The Universal Truths of Birding are all that make someone a birder, and there is great leeway for each one as to how a birder might meet, enjoy, or display that truth.
Ultimately, what is the most true of all is that we’re all birders, and just like the birds we enjoy, we all matter. You count, whether you “count” or not.