The next Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is February 16-19, 2018! If your students have been observing birds at a bird feeder, or on a walk, they may be interested in participating in a citizen science project to count birds during the Great Backyard Bird Count. “For at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count, February 16-19, 2018, simply tally the numbers and kinds of birds you see. You can count from any location, anywhere in the world, for as long as you wish!” Whether you see a woodpecker in the woods or a pigeon on a lamp post, they are both birds to count.
Children’s expressed excitement at spotting birds may scare the birds away before you can determine what kind of bird they are. Repeated “bird walks” of short duration can help children practice containing their expressions of enthusiasm. Almost every time we go out the door, a few mourning doves fly up from the ground into the trees. Over time the children have become familiar with the shape and behavior of this bird species. Now that we expect to see them we make it a game to see if the birds will stay visible long enough for us to count them. Sparrows sighted in the bushes can be counted even though we aren’t able to determine which sparrow species are present. Observing and counting animals of all kinds as you walk around the nearby area will develop children’s awareness of how animals, in addition to humans, use the space. A few resources for children and teachers are listed in an Early Years blog post from March 2, 2011.
Your small amount of data will be grouped with data from many others, becoming meaningful in helping to answer questions about bird populations. “Scientists use information from the Great Backyard Bird Count, along with observations from other citizen-science projects, such as the Christmas Bird Count, Project FeederWatch, and eBird, to get the “big picture” about what is happening to bird populations.”
Collecting data in winter is not just about birds. In the October 2015 Early Years column in Science and Children I wrote about indirectly documenting local weather by counting out-door clothing types worn by children and using the data to look for patterns in weather over months and seasons. You can see The Early Years clothing observation images, log, and graph examples in the Science and Children Connections.
Did everyone wear winter outerwear today? As the data is collected and displayed over time, children will see a change in outdoor temperature indicated by a change in the clothing worn. They may be able to predict what most people will be wearing tomorrow and in one month (or “many days from now”). Observing the seasonal change of temperature in the short-term conditions of the atmosphere—weather—is a foundation for later learning about the average daily weather for an extended period of time at that location—climate.