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Join one of the biggest bird counts in the world, from your own backyard

Megan Quinn of the Nature Conservancy of Canada explains the importance of The Great Backyard Bird Count, a global citizen science initiative to collect data on birds.

The Great Backyard Bird Count takes place around the world through February 21

In winter, it's easier to spot woodpeckers in downtown Ottawa. (Submitted by Peter Soroye)

It's called one of the largest community science projects in the world, and you can take part from your own backyard.

The Great Backyard Bird Count kicks off tomorrow and runs through this coming Monday.

The citizen-science project was launched in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, and aims to collect data on wild birds.

Megan Quinn, conservation biologist with the Nature Conservancy of Canada, told CBC Radio's Afternoon Drive about the initiative. Here's part of that conversation, edited for breadth and clarity.

Why is this particular bird count so significant?

It's one of the world's biggest community science events, where members of the public work alongside experts to record birds in the area. Anyone can participate — last year, over 300,000 people in 120 different countries participated. In Canada, there were over 43,000 listed birds submitted across all 10 provinces and three territories. That is a lot of data.

Most birders don't need a lot of convincing to get out there to watch for birds. But how important are bird counts like these when it comes to our scientific understanding of these animals?

Not only is it fun to just spend some time out in nature and see some cool birds, but these observations really do help scientists better understand our global bird populations. Birds are a really important indicator of ecosystem health. They're very sensitive to changes in these environments. Monitoring them can help us to understand really what's going on because, unfortunately, many of our bird species are in trouble and we've seen some steep population declines in our shorebirds and our area insectivores.

What are some of the species that we could see in our backyards here in southwestern Ontario?

If you're a new or a first-time birder, there are some fantastic species to keep an eye out for in southwestern Ontario. There are some large flocks of American robins which have stuck around all of this winter, and their bright orange chest and cheery song make them really easy to identify. Northern cardinals started singing about two weeks ago, and you'll recognize them by their bright red feathers. Birds like woodpeckers, they're starting to drum set up the territories very soon, so be sure to keep an ear out for those. And as spring approaches, if you're looking to take your bird-watching even further, take a look at our ponds and rivers as many of our migratory ducks species will be starting to pass through again.

I understand there are some pretty helpful apps out there that people should know about.

Yeah, participating is really easy and that's what makes the Great Backyard Bird count so fantastic. There are three really easy steps: you decide where you'd like to watch birds, like your garden, your local park, outside your office or your favourite nature reserve. Then, you watch birds for 15 minutes or more over the four-day period, and then you record what you can see on the eBird app. And if you don't know what some of the species are, that's okay! Birding is for everyone. As you said, there are some great tools like the Merlin app, which is essentially like Shazam, but for bird calls. If you hear a bird singing in your garden and you're not sure what it is, you record that noise and it will analyze it and tell you what it thinks that it is.

As a seasoned birder yourself, what kind of birding advice do you have for anyone who's always wanted to try this?

I think anyone who's just looking to get outside in general, bird watching is a fantastic place to start. Sometimes people think you have to get up really early - I am not an early morning person! You can watch birds any time of the day. Also, make sure that if you're spending time outside, you're following all your public health guidelines, respecting private property and making sure you're respecting nature. You can observe the birds, but don't interfere with them.

The Great Backyard Bird Count is a global citizen science initiative taking place February 18-21, 2022. For more details, visit www.birdcount.org.

If you're a fan of birdwatching...look no further than your own backyard. The Nature Conservancy of Canada is inviting birdwatchers to take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count. Megan Quinn, a conservation biology coordinator with the Conservatory joins host Chris dela Torre to share more.

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