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Backyard Birding Blitz: Fall Migration

Written by Ethan Bott
    Wednesday, 19 August 2020
Backyard Birding Blitz: Fall Migration

While springtime has long ago passed and with social distancing and mask wearing highly recommended, the Urban Ecology Center is excited to announce our first ever Fall Backyard Birding Blitz on Saturday, September 12th! As the birds start their journey back down south to warmer places for the winter, that means that they will be stopping by in Milwaukee and in cities and places from around the country. Come join us in observing and documenting the beautiful birds as they migrate south. Similar to the Green Birding Challenge in spring, some of the rules will sound familiar – you can choose between one of three challenges where you will try to record as many different species of birds as possible without using fossil fuels. The goal of this event will be the same: to connect people to the wonders of our local birds, and rather than gathering in one place, we are going to explore our own backyards and neighborhoods in a socially distant way.

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Just like the springtime Backyard Birding Blitz, anyone can compete in this fun and relaxed birding challenge, whether it is from your backyard, your window, your neighborhood, or your park – as long as you abide by social distancing guidelines. You are able to join whether you live in downtown Milwaukee, the north woods of Wisconsin or somewhere in Arizona; whether you have never birded before or you are a seasoned birder; whether you are staying at home by yourself or you have a nest full of kids’; whether you join from a high-rise apartment, a house or a farm - this challenge is for EVERYONE!

There are THREE challenges to pick from in the Backyard Birding Blitz:

  • Home Challenge 7:45-10:45 am CST - Record as many birds as you can within the limits of what you consider home or your place of residence. The challenge will end with Live Nature Themed Trivia starting at 10:15 am along with a raffle prize drawing for those that share a checklist on eBird to the account: UrbanEcoCtr. For those staying at home, there will be a variety of challenges and activities for families and kids that concludes with a Live Family Friendly Trivia session. Participants that share a picture of their bingo card with us on our Facebook event page will be entered into a raffle prize drawing.
  • Neighborhood Challenge 7:45-10:45 am CST - Record as many birds as you can in your neighborhood without using fossil fuels (bikes are permitted). The challenge will end with Live Nature Themed Trivia starting at 10:15 am along with a raffle prize drawing for those that share a checklist on eBird to the account: UrbanEcoCtr.
  • Family Challenge 8:30-10:00 am CST - There will be a variety of challenges and activities such as guided bird crafts (see the supplies list at the bottom of this post), bird themed bingo, and more for families and kids that concludes with a Live Family Friendly Trivia starting at 9:30am. Participants will be entered into a raffle prize drawing for those that share a picture of their bingo card with us on our Facebook event page.

Feel free to compete in one or even all three of the challenges! This is a collaborative event and we will try to see how many species we record with everyone’s results compiled! You MUST register to receive the Youtube Live link where the event will be live streamed. Please register here for the Home or Neighborhood Challenge and here for the family challenge.

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A few reminders:

  • You will be recording bird species and also the number of individual birds for each species (i.e. 7 Northern Cardinals)
  • You can count birds you positively identify by sight or sound
  • Try your best not to count the same individual more than once
  • All the data that we compile will be submitted to eBird, an international database that contains millions of observations just like yours and helps contribute to science and conservation decisions from around the world!

As during the springtime Backyard Birding Blitz, we are proud that the raffle prizes will be gift cards to local restaurants that are operating pickup or delivery services. At the culmination of Backyard Birding Blitz, everyone that submits a checklist or bingo card (Family Challenge) will automatically be entered to win (and if you’re participating from another state, you will just have to come visit Milwaukee once leisurely travel is safe☺).

Register here for the Home or Neighborhood Challenge and here for the Family Challenge for this exciting day and we hope to see you on Saturday, September 12th for this fun and unique challenge as we come together to celebrate birds, community, and ultimately each other!

Birding Lectures

There will be a couple of lectures prior to the Fall Backyard Birding Blitz to prepare us for the event.

Author Talk: Chuck Hagner. The American Birding Association Field Guide to Birds of Wisconsin. – 9/10 at 6pm. Author Chuck Hagner will describe why birdwatching in Wisconsin is such a pleasure and why the state’s birds should be a source of great pride for every Wisconsinite. His book shows 299 of Wisconsin’s varied and beautiful birds and gives tips on identifying and finding them. Books are available for purchase now at Boswell Books. Register here.

eBird Basics - 9/11 at 3pm. This lecture will help you learn what eBird is and how to submit a checklist for the event on Saturday. Register here.

Frequently Asked Questions

image 3What if I have never birded before?

Fear not! This is the perfect time to get started. We recommend using a bird book (like the one collecting dust in your attic) or an app on your device to get started. If you have a smartphone or tablet, we highly encourage you to download the Merlin Bird ID app. This free app is very easy to use (and did we mention the app is free?)  If you’re trying to ID a bird it will ask you five questions that will help it narrow down your list of possible species. If you happen to snap a picture of the bird, you can easily upload it into Merlin and it will help identify the bird with surprising accuracy (depending on the quality of the picture).

You can identify birds by sound using the Song Sleuth app which is also free. Instead of using a photograph, record a bird singing on your phone and it will help identify it! (It is very similar to the music app: “Shazam,” that can identify any human song you hear on the radio).

Still nervous? We will have a seasoned birder on staff who will be available to answer any questions LIVE during the entire challenge. 

What if I can’t identify a bird?

That’s OK too!  It’s a learning experience.  We encourage birding with a journal or pad of paper.  Write down everything you were able to observe and then you can study it later with references, friends or UEC staff.  Remember it’s better to be accurate than precise, so if you see a thrush you can’t identify, better to keep it listed as an unidentified thrush than to guess and potentially be wrong.

What if I don’t have binoculars?

No worries. Backyard birding can be done without binoculars. While they sure help a lot, we know not everyone has a pair. If you have a camera of any kind with a zoom lens (some phone cameras have enough zoom to work as well), it can work in a similar way to binoculars. If you don’t have a camera with zoom, many birds like robins, cardinals, and herons can be identified with the naked eye. Birds that are smaller can still be identified if you patiently wait for them to come closer or view them discreetly through your window. Again, this is a collaborative challenge so feel no pressure if you can’t identify the species.

What if I have never submitted a checklist on eBird before?

Again, fear not! We will guide you through submitting a checklist on eBird between 10:00-10:15am on the day of the challenge. Otherwise, follow these directions to get started:

  1. If you don’t have an eBird account, go to eBird and create an account. You can also download eBird on both Android and iOS devices so you can enter your list as you bird.
  2. During the challenge, submit a checklist for each new location. If you are at home, then you would just submit one checklist. Report all species you identified by sight or sound and include the count for species. 
  3. CRITICAL: Each checklist must be shared with our account “UrbanEcoCtr” as well as with anybody else in your birding party so we can keep track of who submitted a checklist for the raffle prize drawing.
  4. Everyone who submits or whose name is on a checklist will be entered into the raffle prize drawing!

What if I am in a different time zone?

  1. If you are in a different but reasonable time zone (like birding at 7am or during the day your time), please be mindful that the event is scheduled in Central Time and that you should participate along with us at our scheduled start time of 8am Central Time or 11am Central Time.
  2. If you are in an unreasonable time zone (like birding at night or at 3am) you are welcome to participate in this challenge the day before on Friday, September 11th at a time that works for you. You won’t be able to participate live with us, but you will still be entered into the raffle prize drawing if you share an eBird checklist to UrbanEcoCtr.

Rules!

image 2Home Challenge

  • Youtube Live check-in begins at 7:45 a.m. and the challenge begins at 8:00 a.m. (You must register to receive the Youtube Live stream link)
  • Teams can consist of you plus a small group of friends, your family, and/or your roommates. 
  • Create a team name e.g. City Flickers, Feathered Foresters, etc. Teams are based off of who you will bird and submit a checklist with.
  • Your home base is within the limits of what you consider home or place of residence. That could be your home, your apartment, your balcony, your high rise apartment’s front yard or rooftop pool. As long as you are physically within the boundary of your home, you can record the bird.
  • Record all the bird species you see and can identify by sight or sound, including how many of each (try your best not to count the same individual more than once).
  • If a bird is seen or heard from your home base, but is too distant to identify, someone on your team can leave the home base to try to confirm the bird's identity. However, any new bird species seen or heard while confirming the original, can't be counted unless it's seen or heard by an "anchor" who stayed behind or is seen by you when you return to home base.
  • The area can be left and returned to as frequently as desired, but you can only record birds that are identified from your home base. 
  • Submit your checklist on eBird to UrbanEcoCtr by 10:20am. At 10:00 am, UEC staff will guide you through submitting a checklist on eBird.
  • After you’ve submitted your checklist, tune into a trivia session on Youtube Live followed by a local restaurant raffle prize giveaway for all those that submitted a checklist!

* Please create an eBird account prior to September 12th. If you are having troubles creating an eBird account to submit your checklist, please reach out to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to ensure your checklist is received.

Neighborhood Challenge

  • Youtube Live check-in begins at 7:45 a.m. and the challenge begins at 8:00 a.m. (You must register to receive the Youtube Live stream link)
  • Teams consist of a small group of friends, your family, your roommates, or another person (staying 6 feet away) so you are not out alone.
  • Create a fun team name e.g. City Flickers, Feathered Foresters, etc. Teams are based off of who you will bird and submit a checklist with.
  • Please wear a mask and practice physical distancing rules at all times.
  • From your home starting line, your team will travel to and fro, without using any fossil fuels, recording all the bird species you see while also recording the number of birds you see (try your best not to count the same individual more than once, either by sight or sound).
  • Your team must always stay within visual contact of each other.
  • Submit your checklist on eBird to UrbanEcoCtr by 10:20am. At 10:00 am, UEC staff will guide you through submitting a checklist on eBird.
  • Following your eBird checklist submission, there will be a trivia session on Youtube Live followed by a local restaurant raffle prize giveaway for all those that submitted a checklist!

* Please create an eBird account prior to September 12th. If you are having troubles creating an eBird account to submit your checklist, please reach out to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to ensure your checklist is received.

Family Challenge at Home - Rules Page

  • The challenge begins at 8:30 a.m on Youtube Live. (You must register to receive the Youtube Live stream link)
  • Teams consist of you, your kids, your family in your household, a friend, or anyone that wants to learn more about birds!
  • Create a team name e.g. City Flickers, Feathered Foresters, etc. Teams are based off of who you will be birding with. 
  • Follow the activities and complete your bingo card that will be posted on our Facebook event page and in the Youtube Live chat.
  • Share a photo of your attempted bingo card on our Facebook event page and you and your family will be entered into the raffle drawing for a gift card from a local restaurant.

Supplies Needed for Birding Craft:

The Family Challenge will include instructions for a Birdseed Bell Craft that kids and families to follow along with at home. To prepare for the craft, be sure to have the following supplies:

  • 1 cup bird seed
  • 1/2 cup black oil sunflower seeds
  • 1 tsp unflavored gelatin
  • 1 tbsp light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1/4 cut hot water
  • 4.3" flowerpot
  • yarn or string
  • wax paper
  • pencil

Photo credits (in order): Chad Thomack, Lauren Snell, Tory Bahe, Terry Evans

Ethan Bott

Ethan Bott

Ethan Bott is the GIS and Field Data Coordinator for all three branches and is a part of the Research and Community Science Team.  He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point studying Hydrology and GIS. Ethan has been a longtime volunteer, a high school Outdoor Leader, a summer intern, and now he is part of the staff! When he’s not busy crunching numbers or making maps, you will find him backpacking, kayaking, skiing, fishing or doing any number of fun activities outside. He hopes to make ecology and conservation a true community effort where the people doing the science are just as diverse as the subjects being researched.

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