Adapted from an article written by Diane Tipton, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ Statewide Information Officer.

For those who enjoy the outdoors and like feeling part of something bigger than themselves, bird watching may be just the activity.

Birders have a strong information network linking them to each other and to state and national databases that record public bird sightings. The citizen scientists that participate in bird-watching projects are essential to bird conservation, according to birdsource.org.

The annual Christmas Bird Count—which lasts from Dec. 14 to Jan. 5 and is now in its 112th year—has tens of thousands of participants throughout the Americas. Armed with binoculars, bird guides and checklists, families, students, birders and scientists go out to spot and report on bird species. Experts use this data to identify how different species are faring.

The Great Backyard Bird Count, Feb. 17-20, is another important annual birding event. Last year, participants turned in more than 92,000 checklists of birds online, creating the continent’s largest one-time snapshot of bird populations ever recorded. Hosted by Audubon, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada, it aims to get people to watch and count birds for at least 15 minutes. The four-day count typically records more than 10 million observations.

The Breeding Bird Survey occurs annually during the avian breeding season, which is June for most of the U.S. and Canada. Participants skilled in bird identification record sightings along preset survey routes. This cooperative effort between the U.S. Geological Survey’s Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and the Canadian Wildlife Service produces critical information that professionals use to estimate population trends and identify emerging conservation issues.

For details on bird watching, including how to participate in bird counts and directions to more than 30 events in Montana, visit one of the following:

Montana Bird Conservation Partnership – montanabirds.org
Montana Audubon – mtaudubon.org
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks – fwp.mt.gov