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A citizen-science project asks the public to identify the birds in your backyard


If you follow NPR on Instagram, which we hope you do - we're just @npr - you may have seen a video we shared over the weekend of someone whose backyard was absolutely loaded with birds.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: That's a lot of birds. What are they doing? There's one, two - there's, like, 7 million birds out there.


Of course, that video was just to get NPR's followers' attention because we wanted to find out if they were participating in a real event, the Great Backyard Bird Count. That's the annual citizen-science project that gathers data about wild birds. Participants go outside for at least 15 minutes and identify as many birds as they possibly can. The organizers even have an app to help with the identifying.

SHAPIRO: Well, the answer was a resounding yes, beginning with Stephanie Burt (ph), who participated in Mount Pleasant, S.C.

STEPHANIE BURT: I saw a lot of things in the time period that I was counting, including cardinals, that I love. But I added two birds to my life list. One is the hooded merganser, and the other one is the cedar waxwing. I'm very new at all this, and those are pretty common birds based on what the app told me. But they looked anything but common to me. The merganser with its tufted feathers, it was feeding and swimming right on the edge of the marsh. And the waxwing was in some small bushes. It had such distinct coloring and such a loud voice that I couldn't help but notice it. So they were beautiful, and I'm glad to know that those birds exist right alongside us when we're just going about our daily lives and rarely notice them going about their lives.

DEBBIE SODL: Hi. My name is Debbie Sodl (ph). I live in the Pacific Northwest in a beautiful town called Mount Vernon, Wash. We're lucky enough to get winter migratory birds here, including hundreds of thousands of snow geese that migrate all the way from Russia every single winter. Just this morning alone, I have counted over 30 different species and viewed thousands of geese, swans and other birds.

LYNN KELTZ: Hello. This is Lynn Keltz (ph) responding to NPR. I have been doing the Big Backyard Bird Count for a couple years, started during COVID as a nice way to spend my time. I have continued to watch the birds at my feeders out my window. It's fascinating to watch them. It helps science, and it makes me happy just to see the birds. Right now the doves are chasing each other around in the yard, so I'm going to keep doing it. And I hope other people will also enjoy it. Thanks.

ANDY ATLAS: I got to see the diversity of bird species in the heart of the city. And being part of the citizen-science to understand what's happening to the different species made me appreciate how important it is to protect and create habitat in urban areas so future generations can enjoy them too. Andy Atlas. Austin, Texas.

COLLEEN MOORE: Hello. My name is Colleen Moore (ph), and I'm from Encinitas, Calif. It's always been important to us that our 6-year-old have appreciation for nature and the outdoors. Yesterday, I brought her to our local lagoon where we saw egrets and herons and pelicans. It was a perfect momma-daughter afternoon.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: My favorite thing was doing the bird calls. What was your favorite thing about the Backyard Bird Count?

MOORE: Spending time with you.

CHANG: So even though this year's 2023 Great Backyard Bird Count is over, you can still count birds just for fun or, you know, to spend time with someone you love. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.
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