Join the global Great Backyard Bird Count at Glen Helen

By Megan Constable

Photo: A Carolina Wren spotted at Glen Helen

If you have ever wanted to join a worldwide research project, Glen Helen has you covered. Glen Helen will host the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC), where participants help scientists by documenting birds they see or hear in the area.

According to Bethany Gray, an Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist and a Glen Helen volunteer, the GBBC is a four-day event where participants may take as many or few counts as they want. In doing so, they become citizen scientists, and, in this case, ornithologists. Ornithology is the study of birds.

“It’s a citizen-science effort to give such a large amount of data to scientists at one point in time all around the world that they could never ever collect on their own,” Gray says. “Even some of the largest grant projects or funded projects could never collect that much data at one time, so scientists rely on citizen scientists to help share information.”

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society started the GBBC in 1998. According to the GBBC website, the event takes place each February “to create an annual snapshot of the distribution and abundance of birds.” To participate, you must create a free account with the eBird app, which allows you to enter your tally in real time for the most accurate results possible. Last year, over 130 countries participated and counted 5,689 species.

“[Birds] are great indicators of the health of the environment,” Gray says. “They can actually tell us to be alert to something we should be.”

Scientists look at bird migration patterns to see changes in the environment. These changes could be too subtle for the average human day, but life-changing for birds, which need to stay in warmer climates.

“As soon as I started studying [ornithology], [it was] fascinating to learn what birds can teach us,” Gray says. “If there’s trends or triggers and they’re going to go extinct, there could be an environmental issue that’s going to affect everyone. I don’t think people make the connection.”

Glen Helen will hold the event at their Trailside Museum on Feb. 18 from 10 a.m. to noon. Visitors can park in the Glen Helen parking lot at 405 Corry St. in Yellow Springs. Follow the boardwalk through the woods to the museum. There is a suggested parking donation of $5.

Gray suggests visitors bring their own binoculars and bird books, if they have them. Glen Helen will supply a few binoculars and books along with a list of common winter birds for the area. Gray says visitors can expect to see up to 20 species of birds, depending on the weather.

“If it’s a colder day, birds will use more energy to keep warm, so they may be flocking your feeders more on the colder day,” Gray explains.

Location is another important factor when bird watching. If you are near water, it will contribute to the species of birds you will see.

“We have a lot of diverse bird populations in the Miami Valley because we have the rivers,” Gray says. “We have the Little Miami River, which is a national scenic river, the Miami River that goes through Dayton. We also have lots of parks and nature preserves.”

Gray encourages visitors to hike farther into Glen Helen to find more bird species.

“If you haven’t been to Glen Helen, [it] is a phenomenal place to come and visit just for hiking,” Gray says.

However, the event is not limited to Glen Helen. The national event takes place Feb. 17-20. Participants can count from home or any other area where they spot birds. Gray advises accuracy is the key.

“Because you’re collecting data, you want to be rather certain,” Gray says. “You’re collecting it for scientists, so you want to make sure it’s accurate.”

For those unable to go to Glen Helen’s event, the Cornell Lab also does Project FeederWatch, which runs from November through early April. For this study, citizen scientists can submit data from any bird feeder, including any they may have at home. The annual participation fee is $18. Once signed up, they send a research kit with instructions and a bird identification poster. Participants also receive the year-end report.

“It’s fun to participate, especially [for] families, because you’re just focusing on your one area, so it’s not overwhelming,” Gray says.

Gray’s passion for the environment and birds shines through when she talks about the different birds she has seen in past events. Last year, she was excited to hear a great horned owl to add to her tally.

“For me, the study of birds has been an experience in looking at something beyond myself,” Gray says. “It reminds me to stop and pay attention to nature and to try to learn from nature. It’s also very relaxing for me, and it’s always exciting. You don’t know what you’re going to see. Every day’s different.”

The Backyard Bird Count takes place Saturday, Feb. 18 at Glen Helen Trailside Museum, 505 Corry St. in Yellow Springs. The event runs from 10 a.m. to noon. Tickets are your choice of donation to the Glen. For more information or to register for the Glen Helen bird count, please visit Eventbrite.com/e/great-backyard-bird-count-tickets-29280212905. For more information on the GBBC, please visit GBBC.Birdcount.org. For more information on Project FeederWatch, please visit

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Reach DCP freelance writer Megan Constable at MeganConstable@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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