Backyard count connects global bird watchers

The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) hopes to encourage amateur and expert bird watchers alike to document birds across the globe this long weekend.

“Any type of bird count or data collecting is always important because it helps researchers to answer questions and look at population numbers, trends, and distributions of varying species,” said Rebecca Magnus, species at risk manager for Nature Saskatchewan.

The GBBC is being held from Feb. 17-21.

Bird counts are data-collecting initiatives held to document bird habitats and migration patterns, to give scientists a better idea of how conservation efforts impact the environment through birds’ locations.

The GBBC is organized every year in February by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the National Audubon Society and Birds Canada. It promotes bird watching and community science for people of all ages, no matter their experience level or location.

“People around the world come together and they count the birds in their own backyard or their favourite birding place,” said Kerrie Wilcox of Birds Canada. “Then they report those counts online. It becomes part of this huge database so we can use the data to look at trends in the number of birds or changes in migration.

“It’s just a fantastic data set that just gets better every year because we now have 26 years of data.”

Magnus explained that collecting data on birds during the winter and the summer months allows researchers to access back-catalogues of data to track the impacts of urban development, climate change and other questions they may want to address.

Nature Saskatchewan hosts its own bird counts at Christmas time with help from volunteers and children, helping to teach kids about birds and wildlife through bird counting at the Wascana Centre.

“No matter your level of bird engagement, skill, or knowledge, there is always a community group to engage with to get you out there,” said Magnus. “I encourage anybody that wants to start just to look out the window, get outside into your yard and your community.”

One local birder from Pilot Butte, Bernie Schultz, said that he and his wife started bird watching because of the number of birds he saw in his backyard.

“We’ve always had birds, all kinds of birds,” he said. “But Purple Martins are very dominant here. Just their sound alone makes for a brighter day. We love the sound of them. They’re obviously great for eating bugs, which is a side we didn’t really care about. But we enjoyed their company.”

Schultz mainly birdwatches from his home, where he always searches the internet to find the name of whatever new bird he has seen.

In Schultz’s backyard alone, he sees birds from robins to nuthatches to several types of woodpeckers, all common birds in Southern Saskatchewan.

Bird watching is an enjoyable activity for Schultz, something that has become a stress relief for him.

Initiatives like Bird Friendly Regina and Nature Regina also help to promote nature conservation in the province and encourage people to engage with wildlife, the groups promoting and highlighting community groups and dedicated events to preserve nature.

Regina was certified as a bird-friendly city in 2022, which denotes the community as safe for wild birds. A no-roaming bylaw for cats and the protection of the Wascana Centre are some initiatives by the city to help protect local flora and fauna.

More information about the GBBC can be found here on its website.

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