by Jackson Sveen

Estimates suggest that there are tens of billions of birds in the United States, but how would anyone figure that out?

One method of keeping track of the number of birds in North America is through citizen science, where the public gathers large amounts of scientific data.

This year, from Feb. 15-18, everyone in the world will have the opportunity to participate in the 16th annual Great Backyard Bird Count.

This is the first year that the bird count will go beyond North America and open up to the entire world.

The bird count asks participants to count the number of individual birds of each species they see during a period of time. Participants can watch for 15 minutes or as long as they want in their backyards, parks or elsewhere.

“You don’t have to be stuck in your backyard, you can go on a walk, a wildlife refuge or go on a drive,” said Davidson College professor Mark Stanback.

Once the data is gathered, participants can load their data at, beginning Feb. 15.

Davidson’s Girl Scout Troop 2041 is also participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count and getting other community members involved. The troop spent Feb. 2 at the Davidson Farmers Market handing out flyers with information on how to get involved in the bird count.

The flyer included pictures of common local birds that some of the Girl Scouts drew.

Students in Stanback’s zoology class also participate in the bird count. They tally their data and compare it to what other people are finding in Davidson, Charlotte and around Lake Norman. That data is used as a launch point to look at local trends of a variety of species.

Stanback says that the groups in charge of coordinating the Great Backyard Bird Count – Cornell Ornithology Lab, the Audubon Society and Bird Studies Canada – are “very careful to make the data as accurate as possible.”

Participants must also answer questions that test their avian expertise.

Questions like, “How would you rate your birding expertise, beginning, intermediate or expert?” help scientists determine how legitimate a participants findings are.

“As they crunch their numbers,” Stanback said, “they take (those answers) into account.”

There is a safety net built into the system, where if a participant enters unusual data, a regional member of the Audubon Society may contact that person via email with specific questions on the findings.

One of Stanback’s students, who is a expert “birder,” saw a black and white warbler during a bird count.

The presence of that bird in this region was very unusual and since the student claimed to be an expert, he received an email from a member of the Charlotte Audubon within two hours of submitting the data, requesting additional information on the sighting.

This Davidson Girl Scout project is part of Girl Scout Journey, based on a Scout book called “Breathe” from which the girls learn the importance of air, things in the air, sound and pollution, Troop Leader Kristine Mossinghoff said.

“A big part of being a cadette is taking leadership roles and taking on challenges to reach more into the community with a special topic that is related to the journey,” Mossinghoff said. “We chose to bring attention to our beautiful feathered friends in the air.”

Girl Scout Troop 2041 includes Amanda Mossinghoff, Camille Krauss, Gracie Donohue, Alexandra Mossinghoff, Julia Van Epps, Anna Wiles, Morgan Harris, Jessi Figard, Morgan Klein and Lydia Adams. Mossinghoff and Jessica Donohue lead the group.

Want to get involved?

Visit to register and participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count. The website has audio and visual aids that will help you identify the birds you can expect to see in your region.

Send the Herald your bird pictures from the Great Backyard Bird Count to and we’ll run our favorites online.

Statistics from the 2012 Backyard Bird Count

Checklists Submitted 104,285

Species Observed: 623

Individual Birds Counted 17,382,831