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Pennsylvania Vies for Top Spot in Great Backyard Bird Count, February 17-20

By dgross January 31, 2017

A Red-breasted Nuthatch at a hanging oil sunflower feeder. Suet is another attractant. However, birders should not rely solely on feeders for nuthatches since they are easy to find in conifers. By J. Dingel.

Is this the year Pennsylvania finally breaks out of the “runner up” position and takes over as the number ONE contributor to the Great Backyard Bird Count??  Well, that’s really up to you! As birders, I’m sure you’ve enjoyed your experience with the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) and recognize the importance your data has to this snapshot of global bird populations.  Why not recruit a “newbie” to participate this year?  Maybe they weren’t ready for the tundra-like conditions of the Christmas Bird Count.  No excuses with the GBBC…they can bird from the indoors! It provides a great introduction to those who until now, have only enjoyed birding vicariously through tales of your Central American adventures and bird-chasing escapades.  Our state was second last year among the 50 states contributing checklists to the GBBC.  Let’s be first!

Pennsylvania needs about 3,000 new checklists (that just 750 new people submitting a checklist for each of the count’s four days Feb 17-20) to put us over the top and overtake the count’s top state participant, California.  Yes, this is an east-west rivalry and we’re fired up! Not since the 2001 Sixers-Lakers battle or the recent classic Rose Bowl game between Penn State and the University of South California have we witnessed anything like this!

The 2017 event will be the twentieth for the Great Backyard Bird Count. Let’s make it a big one.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is a great way to get involved with bird “citizen science” even for those that are tied to their home.   Audubon Pennsylvania has created a webpage listing all of the relevant resources for Pennsylvania participants.

Crimson-colored Tanager at a banana feeder at El Jaguar Reserve in Nicaragua by Doug Gross,. This is a Christmas Bird Count and shade-grown coffee plantation location.

 Know a teacher?  Have them introduce the program to their students. There are resources on the website to make it easy and fun! Know any news reporters?  We are “media ready” and will talk to Pennsylvania TV, radio and print sources about count.  Send us your contacts!   Live in a Bird Town? Your count is critical!   Are you an environmental or state organization with a GBBC workshop or event in the works anywhere in the state?  Let us know and we’ll post it on our GBBC website ( and social media (Facebook, Twitter, Meetup).  We’ll also list you as GBBC PA PARTNER on the site!

Cedar Waxwing eating winter wild fruit by Jake Dingel

The Great Backyard Bird Count is a project that allows anyone to “act locally” and “contribute globally.” There is world-wide participation in this friendly backyard birdwatching event.  The 2016 results were absolutely astonishing.  The website reports a total of 162,052 checklists submitted.   World-wide, there were 5,889 species observed.  And, a total of 18, 637, 974 individual birds were counted!  The GBBC data are part of the great eBird data set so it adds on to that already successful project.  Participants are invited to post their bird photos right on the GBBC website as part of a context or as part of an eBird field trip report.  The GBBC website allows an exploration of the data by looking at maps.  And, there are lots of information about the birds seen during this project and how to separate similar species. There also are posters and data summaries found at this website. Of course, any eBird field report can be augmented by photos of birds observed if you chose to submit your local turf’s birds there instead.

Male Northern Cardinal in the snow by Jake Dingel, PGC

The 2016 Great Backyard Bird Count was the 19th year for the event which is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society with partner Bird Studies Canada. The Pennsylvania Game Commission recommends that people get involved, especially beginners and those that spend most of their at home. The information gathered by tens of thousands of volunteers helps track the health of bird populations on a global scale using the eBird online checklist program. The most frequently reported species were the following:

Species Number of Checklists
Dark-eyed Junco 63,110
Northern Cardinal 62,323
Mourning Dove 49,630
Downy Woodpecker 47,393
Blue Jay 45,383
American Goldfinch 43,204
House Finch 41,667
Tufted Titmouse 38,130
Black-capped Chickadee 37,923
American Crow 37,277

Black-capped Chickadee on sumac by Jacob Dingel

The most numerous species reported in 2016 were the following, reflecting the flocking nature of many birds commonly seen especially by water:

Species Number of Individuals
Snow Goose 1,405,349
Canada Goose 1,166,166
European Starling 624,267
American Coot 515,017
Mallard 510,103
Dark-eyed Junco 487,772
Ring-billed Gull 447,635
Red-winged Blackbird 437,615
American Goldfinch 429,073
American Robin 375,760

American Robin feeding on staghorn sumac by Jake Dingel

The data totals are tallied as of March 2, 2016. These results reflect the high adoption of the project by North American birders.

Fortunately, the GBBC is a very popular even in Pennsylvania and we encourage more to become involved with it!

By Steven Saffier, Program Manager, Audubon Pennsylvania, and Doug Gross, Endangered and Non-game Bird Supervisor, Pennsylvania Game Commission

Downy Woodpecker foraging on poison ivy berries, Jake Dingel. One of the many birds that take advantage of wild fruits.