How to Organize a Great Backyard Bird Count

The Great Backyard Bird Count is a great family activity
at home or on a refuge.
Credit: Jennifer Jewett/USFWS

Don’t take the “backyard” part of the Great Backyard Bird Count literally; you can have one at any location, on public or private lands.  Count wild birds outside or sitting comfortably inside a visitor center while looking through a window. 

Offering a Great Backyard Bird Count event at a National Wildlife Refuge benefits the public, your refuge, and most importantly, the birds.  It’s a great way for bird watchers of all levels to participate in a large-scale citizen science project and learn about wild birds on the refuge.

Events can be small and focused, or larger, covering multiple audiences over a period of several days.  At any scale on any refuge, the Great Backyard Bird Count is a wonderful opportunity to invite visitors to connect with birds and their habitats during the heart of the winter. 


A joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, with partner Bird Studies Canada, the four-day count typically receives sightings from tens of thousands of people reporting more than 600 bird species in the United States and Canada alone. For the first time in this year’s 16th annual count, the Great Backyard Bird Count will include participants from anywhere in the world, not just North America.

During the 2012 count, participants reported 17.4 million bird observations on 104,000 checklists. Snowy owls thrilled many participants when these striking birds-of-prey ventured south from the Arctic in record numbers. In 2013, scientists predict that U.S. and Canadian bird watchers will see an influx of red-breasted nuthatches and winter finches (such as pine siskins) because of scarce food supplies on their northern wintering grounds.

Resources for a Great Backyard Bird Count Event

2013 Instructions for National Wildlife Refuges (87KB pdf)

Ways to Involve Kids (49KB pdf)

Binocular Basics (138KB pdf)

FAQ (90KB pdf)

Official Great Backyard Bird Count site