Common Redpoll (Acanthis flammea), a scarce winter visitor to Iowa, rests during a snow storm in northeastern Iowa. Photo by Larry Reis
Birding is a rapidly growing outdoor pastime. It can be done anywhere, anytime and regardless of learning level. It’s a great way to keep your mind and body active and helps us build connections with the natural world around us, and more and more people are choosing to participate in formal birding events each year. On a single day in 2023 (Global Big Day, an annual bird spotting event), birders around the globe set a new world record for documented sightings. These organized counts not only inspire learning and exploration but result in big scientific contributions. Data collected helps inform conservation decisions.
So why are so many of these formal counting events during the winter? In part, it’s because winter used to be a popular time of year to shoot songbirds for sport. In fact, the first Christmas Bird Count (held in 1899) was organized by the National Audubon Society as a way to encourage people to count birds instead of shooting them for fun. Now more than 100 years old, this annual tradition has gathered invaluable data across the country. The winter timing is also important because, for some migratory birds who have large ranges and might breed in inaccessible areas, a winter count is the only opportunity to study population trends. And lastly, we all need more reasons to be encouraged to spend time outdoors when it’s chilly.
There are a handful of ways you and your family can be involved in birding this winter:
Christmas Bird Count
Single-day, area-specific counts between December 14 and January 5
These are organized locally in a highly specific area. Contact the coordinator nearest you for more details about how to get involved.
November – March
Count birds anytime and in any place you choose. The FeederWatch mobile app makes reporting even easier. This project does cost a small fee, but participants will receive educational and other materials.
Great Backyard Bird Count
February 16 – 19 (over President’s Day weekend each year)
The count lasts the whole weekend, but you can bird for as little at 15 minutes and still make a difference.
January 15 – February 15
A newer community science initiative that gathers data specifically to help scientists understand how birds are affected by climate change.
And, remember that you can always participate independently year-round and report what you find through apps like eBird or Merlin Bird ID. Learn more about what birds you might see during Iowa's winter's here.