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NEW WILMINGTON, Pa–On February 17-20, birders across the world grabbed their binoculars and traveled outdoors to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count, also known as “GBBC”. The Tweetspeak team spent the morning of the 18th at the Field Station counting as many birds as possible to contribute to the count. According to The Great Backyard Bird Count website, “Launched in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, the Great Backyard Bird Count was the first online citizen-science project to collect data on wild birds and to display results in near real-time.” Scientists do not have the ability to count every bird, so they count on citizen scientists to identify and document their findings. Birders log onto eBird, or the GBBC website, so they can personally post which species, quantity of that species and where they spotted the birds.

The importance of this worldwide count is immense to the avian community. There is not enough money, scientists, or time to travel the world and document all of these birds, so they rely on citizen-scientists to do the busy work. As a birder, this annual event is a must. By posting their findings, birders help scientists get a better idea of where birds migrate during this time of year. Since it is all done on the same weekend and is worldwide, the count helps show the abundance of birds. Bird populations are constantly fluctuating on a yearly basis so participating every year is crucial. Participating one year is great, but doing it every year is vital. This way scientists can collect meaningful data to answer many of the questions the scientific world has been wondering for decades. This data has the ability to raise concern for the following reasons:

  • Climate change
  • Timing of migration
  • Migration patterns

Climate Change

Due to human-induced climate change, temperatures and nature, in general, are changing. Due to warmer temperatures, birds may leave the Pennsylvania area later in the winter and come back earlier in the spring. By documenting where the birds are in mid-February, it helps answer some potential climate change questions. From the team’s experience, all of the birds we could correctly identify have been on campus and around the area all semester long.

Timing of Migration

As mentioned above, timing of migration can be a vast indicator of possible climate change. According to a recent study, birds are migrating earlier than normal. Lead researcher Dr. Jenny Gill from UEA’s school of Biological Sciences said:

“We found that birds hatched in the late 1990s arrived in May, but those hatched in more recent years are tending to arrive in April. So the arrival dates are advancing because the new youngsters are migrating earlier.”

Due to earlier migration, GBBC is vital to help understand when certain species are migrating back from the south.

Click here to find out why timing of migration is imperative!

Migration Patterns

Attached is a link that shows 118 different species traveling throughout the Western Hemisphere during the calendar year. All About Birds was able to do this through the citizen scientist program done through eBird. A number of species do not fly over the open ocean. That being said, many of those species will travel through the same area as other species.

Click here to watch a bird migration simulation!


Tweetspeaks first Great Backyard Bird Count 

Based on the data collected in the New Wilmington area, it can help the Field Station set up proper bird feeders and place suet cakes in the correct areas. Additionally, the data can potentially give the station an opportunity to create other environments to help attract more diverse species of birds to the station.

The Tweetspeak Team was lucky to have a beautiful, warm morning which resulted in a successful GBBC in our area. The Field Station, where the team decided to obtain their data, is located roughly a mile from Westminster College’s campus. The area consists primarily of forests so developing more grasslands could be helpful to get a number of different species around the college.With multiple groups spread out around the trails, the team identified at least thirteen different species in about two hours on Saturday. Some of the identified species were:

  • Blue Jay
  • Red-shouldered Hawk
  • American Robin
  • Canada Goose
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • White-breasted Nuthatch
  • Tufted Titmouse

An early arriver to the North, the Red-winged Blackbird was able to be identified by our team for the first time! These birds are difficult to miss considering they love attention. Perching on high branches, singing a loud “conk-la-ree!” sounding song and it’s distinct red stripe on its wing of course! The bird was perched on a telephone poll just off of Lake Britain.

Photo by Connor White

To find out more about how to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count, check out Brad’s blog post on how to get started!



Written by Brandon Rossier & Connor White

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