How to participate in bird counts

Participating in a count at your home feeder

Let’s say you want to participate in the fall or spring bird count, but don’t want to leave your home and join a field group—luckily, you can still contribute valuable data to these community-science efforts! Just adhere to the following protocol, then email your results to the Outreach & Communications Director, subject line: “Bird Count Data.” For info on how to participate from home for the Great Backyard Bird Count, visit

  1. Count all the birds at your feeder for a minimum of fifteen minutes.
  2. Record the maximum number of individuals of each species you see during that fifteen-minute window.
  3. Record the time frame (clock-times during which you observed), your precise location (address or GPS), and the date, then submit your results via email.
  4. If you believe you have seen an out-of-range or rare bird at your feeder, please submit a photograph if possible, or if not, a detailed description of the bird.

Some key things to consider: it’s very important that participants not double count individual birds. Imagine a scenario in which you observe five Carolina Chickadees at your feeder around 9:10 a.m., those birds leave, and then four Carolina Chickadees show up around 9:45. Do you count five birds or nine? Because we’re not very good at separating individual birds from one another, there’s a good chance these four are just a subset of the original five. If you say “nine chickadees,” you’re likely double counting a smaller number of birds. As such, you should only report the maximum number of individuals of a given species observed at one time. 

If you count in several different fifteen-minute intervals throughout the day, you’ll still want to report only the maximum number of individuals of a given species observed at any one time. But what if you see species during the afternoon that you didn’t see in the morning, or during one time interval, but not during another? In this case, it’s perfectly acceptable to merge your counts—after all, we’re interested in getting a sense of how many individuals of each bird species show up at your feeder during the day of the count. As long as you report the times during which you observed, we’ll be able to keep track of your “birding effort” (the amount of time you spent observing) and the data will be useful.

Questions? We can help! Email the Outreach & Communications Director. 

Participating with a field group

If you know a field group participating, join a party leader the day of the count, or you may contact the Outreach & Communications Director to arrange for a party to join. Expect a full day in the field, and remember to bring a packed lunch with plenty of water, insect repellent, rain gear, sunblock, and seasonally appropriate attire.

While we encourage participation in the counts, they are not the best times for learning your bird identifications because time is of the essence. If you are seeking to build your birding skills, a better opportunity would be to enroll in one of our birding classes or attend a field trip. (Click here for upcoming events and field trips.)