COMMUNITY: Bird count draws big numbers

Signs of spring all around

A blue jay was spotted during the recent Great Backyard Bird County. (Rick Hollis photo/community contributor)
A blue jay was spotted during the recent Great Backyard Bird County. (Rick Hollis photo/community contributor)

Editorís note: Rick Hollis of rural North Liberty is past president and newsletter editor for the Iowa City Bird Club.

By Rick Hollis, community contributor

Last month was the Great Backyard Bird Count, so my wife and I ó and many of our neighbors ó counted birds.

The count was launched in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society. The Great Backyard Bird Count was the first project to allow citizen scientists to collect data on wild birds and to display results in near real-time.

Worldwide, 141,421 checklists were submitted, 4,170 species recorded and nearly 17.5 million individual birds counted.

In Iowa, there were 98 species and 969 checklists. Johnson County had 108 checklists and 48 species counted and Linn County had 55 checklists and 44 species. The final numbers may be slightly higher since they are accepting sightings from March 14-17.

Checklists were submitted from Devon Island, Canada (well north of the Arctic Circle) to Adelaide Island, Antarctica (barely north of the Antarctic Circle). East to west sightings were recorded throughout the globe, including apparently some ships at sea. Looking at the data, one person counted birds while watching the webcam that has been set up at a Laysan albatross nest on Kauai, Hawaii.

We always watch our feeders, but these days are special because we actually count and record the number of birds we see. This year we were allowed to enter our data through eBird and I used an app, BirdLog, to record and enter my data on my cellphone. The great value of this project is it takes more or less instant snapshot of all the birdsí population.

Most of the data comes from the United States, where the project originated. This was the first year that the GBBC expanded beyond Canada and the U.S.

Every day was different. Our highlights included seeing more and more dark-eyed juncos as the dusk fell on Feb. 14. I recorded 26 individuals, realizing there could easily have been many more. This was the most Iíve seen this winter.

The next day started with a bang, too. I counted eight blue jays, the most I have seen since they were migrating in the fall. We have had northern flickers around off-and-on for some time. On this day, I realized one had some red in his mustaches. Flickers used to be two species, the western red-shafted flicker and our eastern yellow-shafted flicker. Western birds have red mustaches, eastern birds have black mustaches. Scientist decided these were the same species with two forms that hybridize.

On Feb. 16, Janet saw a Cooperís hawk chase something into our window. Both birds flew away and, although there were some feathers in the snow, apparently the hawk will need further hunting for its breakfast.

We had 21 species over the four days ó Cooperís hawk, mourning dove, red-bellied woodpecker, yellow-bellied sapsucker, downy woodpecker, hairy woodpecker, northern flicker, blue jay, American crow, black-capped chickadee, tufted titmouse, white-breasted nuthatch, eastern blue bird, European starling, American tree sparrow, dark-eyed junco, northern cardinal, house finch, purple finch, American goldfinch and house sparrow.

  • You can view the results and learn about participation for next year at

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