The Great Backyard Bird Count

On Saturday, some friends and I participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count, a 4-day event that is winding down today. We had great fun and saw lots of birds while hiking around the Las Gallinas Wildlife Ponds in San Rafael, CA, a nearby place I’d never visited before! There’s still time to join this and other bird counts. In fact, they’re part of an ongoing effort by the Audubon Society and Cornell Lab of Ornithology to track, learn about, and assist bird populations. Here is complete information about bird counts and how you can get  involved. In the meantime, enjoy our walk with us.

We immediately spotted lots of birds in the nearby trees, such as Yellow-Rumped Warblers, Red-Winged Blackbirds, House Wrens, and these Finches, both male (top) and female.

The large ponds were teeming with bird life, both on water and in the trees. It was amazing what I could see in the trees with binoculars. It was as if a hidden world opened up. There were birds everywhere — white glints of gulls, herons, and egrets.  (I admit I’m not sure what kinds. My friends, and their kids, were all much better classifiers than me.) Flocks of Canada Geese flew by and we did our best to count/guess how many there were.

In the water were Avocets, and these graceful Black-Necked Stilts.

Plenty of ducks and geese swam by and called noisily to one another. Ducks we spotted included the poetically named Northern Pintail, Cinnamon Teal, Ruddy Duck, and, of course, the lovely emerald-headed Mallard.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw a Red-winged Blackbird. It took me a moment to register the bright orange-red color on the tops of their wings. These seem in repose, watching a duck.

We found a great stand of trees, hosting lots of bird life. (Quickly moving bird life, that seemed to sense when you were closing in with a camera, before flying away.) We were able to identify Robins and these Western Bluebirds.

I quietly followed this Great Egret for a while. I liked the way he mozeyed down the trail, taking his time (Slow Egret?), before sticking his neck out.

This tree was full of noisy, cheery blackbirds.

You can listen to a group of blackbirds, seemingly signaling spring.


The tally for the Bird Count got entered online. As of mid-day Monday, there had been 46,912 checklists submitted, 553 species observed, and 4,531,433 individual birds counted. In a little over an hour, we contributed 170 birds in 24 species to the list in order to help the Bird Count get a snapshot of bird activity over a busy, migrating weekend in February.

As for me, the activity really whet my appetite to do more bird watching and counting. Who knows? One day I might be able to identify those white birds in the trees.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

You might like these other citizen science projects.

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10 responses to “The Great Backyard Bird Count

  1. Just lovely. All of it…

  2. Wish I could have come that area. Not formally counting but always admiring our backyard bird friends. Robins take baths in Lola’s water dish and waxwings eat the holly berries

  3. What a bounty of birds. Thanks for sharing the photos and experience!

  4. We went somewhere new to bird watch, too, and saw plenty of ducks and other waterfowl I (unfortunately) couldn’t classify (it’s the beginner in me!). What my little ones seemed to enjoy most was squatting down low and taking their time to try to get as close to the birds as possible before they’d fly off. It really was a lot of fun! Looks like you had a great time, too.

  5. Wonderful to hear from you, fellow bird and birding appreciators, Leah, Melynda and Debi!

    Ooh, so you’re getting robins and waxwings, Leah. Lovely. Debi, I remember my daughter trying to get really close to birds and animals, too. (In fact, her first word was “hi” and she was saying it to animals in a petting zoo.)

    I’m so glad you liked the write-up, Mel. One of the great things about blogging is being able to share and relive wonderful experiences. I so enjoyed my bird outing and plan to do a lot more. Even on the way home from this one, I stopped to photograph some blossoming trees and found myself slightly more aware than usual of the birds chirping and moving within them — goldfinches, I think, though I’m not quite sure.

  6. There was such a lively birdwatching discussion on the Slow Family Facebook page that I’m posting some of the comments here:

    A friend is doing this in central PA and had to send the dog out to scare off a black tipped hawk so he didn’t eat all the birds at their feeders! He was hidden in their pine tree just waiting for lunchtime!

    I’ve always wanted to do this. 15 mins. doesn’t sound so hard.

    Slow Family:
    My hunch is that a lot of people start with 15 minutes and end up having so much fun they stick around and try to see one.. more .. bird. It’s really great that you can participate in such a small amount of time, and from just about anywhere.

  7. Jeanette:
    How do you keep from counting the same bird twice?

    Slow Family:
    That’s a great question! The BirdSource page has a bunch of Q&As but not that one. It does say that birds have to be close enough for a positive ID – they can’t be one of a faraway flock. So, maybe that makes it easier to know if you keep seeing the same bird? Here’s the FAQ: I’ll poke around some more to see if I can find anything else out. I’m curious, too. This will be my first bird count.

    LOVE this! Since living on Long Island for almost 10 years with plenty of Maples we have the houses and see so many birds either come back or stop by. Our only problem is that squirrels try to kill the houses and babies…totally destroyed a Blue Bird House…

    Love seeing all of them with all sorts of colors and demeanor, some scared some ever so brave! Feeding is only allowed while making nests and feeding babies, never over summer.

    Thanks Suz!

    Slow Family:
    Hi Anne! Thanks so much for your enthusiasm and vivid bird tales. I thought of you when I posted about the bird count because I know you’re an avid birder and gardener. (I also know you’re having a ton of snow right now – don’t imagine many birds flying around.) I’m so sorry to hear about the squirrels. We have not had that problem here. I always have a feeder out and there are lots of different birds in the trees. Do you not feed in summer because that’s when the squirrels come out?

  8. Anne:
    Well the snow is not over and was BAD for a while but I think it’s less than what was anticipated. We DID see Chickadees (red & little) just about 2 days ago…they must have been cold!

    There is a LAW in place here to NOT feed over the summer…perhaps the birds get overweight. Once the Birds give birth and gain back weight they go away anyway. The babies get fed multiple times per minute(s) by both parents and grow fast! Looking forward to seeing many again soon!

    Slow Family
    How interesting that there is a law not to feed birds. It sounds like it’s for their own health? Although, do birds overeat?? Good chickadee sighting – though I am picturing their little bodies shivering. I’m sure you’re going to see great birds in the spring.

    I love birds… i loved last winter in chicago when spring came and the yellow finches and red cardinals came out to feed. Thanks for sharing all this great information.. suz you are a great resource!!!

    Slow Family
    Hi Cyndi! Thanks so much. You are very sweet. Finches and cardinals are classic, and I could just imagine their bright colors. There is nothing like a gorgeous spring following a gray winter. Are you going to try to participate in the bird count? I bet there’s a lot of activity in Oregon right now. Thanks again for your lovely image and comment!

  9. Pingback: Join the Great Backyard Bird Count - Slow Family

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