Idaho: An oasis for birds and birdwatchers

Whether you love the high desert heat or crisp mountain air, there’s a spot in Idaho for nearly everyone to enjoy. There’s also many places in Idaho for an array of birds to enjoy, too.

More than 430 species of birds call Idaho home, making the Gem State an oasis for birdwatchers. From peering outside your kitchen window to the feeder in your yard, walking along Boise’s greenbelt, or trekking deep into Idaho’s backcountry – you’re sure to see a few different kinds of birds. But did you know that what you see while birdwatching this weekend can help our understanding of Idaho’s birds, as well as help ensure their future?

What’s the Great Backyard Bird Count?

The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) is an annual event that birdwatchers of all ages and experience can participate in. Every February, participants all over the world pick a spot to watch birds and report back their findings. Those findings help give a real-time snapshot of bird populations and patterns. Each report, or checklist, submitted during the GBBC helps researchers learn more about how birds are doing, how they are adapting to a changing climate, and how to help protect them.

The GBBC was created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society. Although it is a worldwide event, the GBBC is also extremely local. Idahoans going out to watch birds will give us a glimpse into the state’s bird populations just before some of those species start migrating this spring.

The 26th annual GBBC is Friday, February 17 through Monday, February 20. To participate, you need to watch for birds for at least 15 minutes and count and identify all of the birds you see or hear during that time. You can submit multiple reports, or checklists, throughout the weekend. You can return to the same spot or travel somewhere new, as long as you start a new checklist for each location and time period.

A Belted Kingfisher catches dinner.

How to participate

  1. Pick your spot! Whether it’s your back porch, the Greenbelt, or your favorite hiking trail – pick a spot where you’ll watch for birds.
  2. Watch closely! From February 17-20, watch for birds for a time period of at least 15 minutes. Feel free to watch for longer, as long as you are paying close attention.
  3. Take notes! Count all birds you see or hear during that time. Record every species that you can identify, as well as the number of birds you observed during your outing.
  4. Report back! Submit your information on the eBird app or on the eBird website. When you submit your information, you’ll need to include your location, time and length of visit, and your findings.
A Cooper’s Hawk chases a Red-tailed Hawk.

Helpful hints

If you are new to birding and need help with identification, try using the free Merlin Bird ID app on your smartphone. There is also an online version for those who don’t have a smartphone. 

Misidentification isn’t the only thing that may stand in the way of your count. There’s also potential for a miscount, especially if a large flock or multiple flocks fly your way. When counting birds, general estimates are fine. If you want to be as accurate as possible – pull out your camera or phone and take a picture when a flock comes so you can count the exact number of birds later. If you don’t have time for that, just remember to be conservative with your counting. The goal is to have the most accurate count, not the largest.

Your participation in the GBBC plays a huge role in protecting birds. Scientists need the help from hundreds of thousands of people acting as citizen scientists to report what they’re seeing in their backyards, neighborhoods, and wild spaces around them. Citizen science projects like the GBBC not only help individuals learn more about the world around them, but benefit communities and the environment as a whole.

If you would like to stay in the loop on Idaho’s wildlife, please sign up here for regular updates on ICL’s wildlife work.