Get your binoculars out

The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) won’t just be taking place Feb. 17-20 but also celebrating a 20th anniversary.

The event sees birdwatchers from around the world count the birds they can see for at least 15 minutes on each of the days and enter their stats at Those numbers provide a snapshot of bird distribution and help scientists see the patterns that have taken place over the last two decades.

The event is promoted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Audubon and Bird Studies Canada.

“The very first GBBC was an experiment,” Marshall Iliff - leader of the eBird Program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology – said in a press release. “We wanted to see if people would use the Internet to send us their bird sightings. Clearly the experiment was a success!”

Back in 1998, birdwatchers residing in Canada and the US submitted about 13,500 checklists. The most recent count saw submissions from more than 100 countries. A total of 162,052 bird checklists recorded 5689 types of birds, more than half of the known species in the world.

“The Great Backyard Bird Count is a great way to introduce people to participation in citizen science,” Gary Langham, Audubon vice president and chief scientist said in the release. “No other program allows volunteers to take an instantaneous snapshot of global bird populations that can contribute to our understanding of how a changing climate is affecting birds.”

Of the species that have been reported, the majestic snowy owl is one.

“The GBBC has done a terrific job of tracking irruptions of snowy owls southward over the past several years,” said Jon McCracken, Bird Studies Canada’s National Program Director. “We can’t predict what winter 2017 will bring, because snowy owl populations are so closely tied to unpredictable ‘cycles’ of lemmings in the Arctic. These cycles occur at intervals between two and six years. Nevertheless, there are already reports of snowy owls as far south as Virginia.”

A very popular photo contest has become a part of the GBBC in recent years. This time around, the public is invited to vote for their favourite top photo from each of the past 11 years in a special album they will find on the event’s website. Voting will take place during the count.

Anyone seeking more information on the event, or Bird Studies Canada can log onto