A hooded merganser made itself at home on a lagoon in Sun City Hilton Head over the holidays.

Counting Crows is not just a famous rock band, but what the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Audubon Society and Birds Canada hope you will do some time after midnight Feb. 16 and before midnight Feb. 20.

Launched in 1998, the Great Backyard Bird Count has become the world’s largest biodiversity-related citizen science project. In just 15 minutes, bird counters can provide real-time data about the avian community in their backyards or wherever they enjoy watching birds. 

The February count helps scientists understand global bird populations before one of their annual migrations.

About 384,650 people in 192 countries participated in 2022. It’s not a competition, but South Carolina was 11th behind neighbors North Carolina in 8th place and Georgia in 10th. 

When it comes to contributing to the count, Beaufort County was a very close second last year behind neighboring Charleston. This county produced 490 checklists listing 162 species.

What does it take to count the birds, other than spending 15 minutes looking outside?

“Getting to see or hear them. The best start is a field guide, and there’s a myriad out there to pick from,” said Cliff Amos, president of the Sun City Bird Club. “Just examine what you see in order to pick out from all the different ones that sort of look alike.”

Among the birds counted in last year’s event, Beaufort County residents spotted mergansers, loons, warblers, brown pelicans, plovers, sandpipers, egrets, buffleheads, whistling ducks, and swans. Those sound pretty exotic with many of them waterfowl and shore birds, but there are more than three dozen little birds that flit in and out of trees and bushes.

The South Carolina Wildlife Federation has a list and photos of the common winter backyard birds for the state, from the American crow to the Northern mockingbird to the yellow-bellied sapsucker. For the more ambitious, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a complete list of the state’s birds, although many may be on winter vacation.

For those who want to participate, it’s not enough to just look at and identify birds. There is some technology involved.

Anyone with a computer or a smart phone can participate in this free activity. Beginning bird watchers can download the free Merlin app or sign up on a computer. Created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the program helps users identify birds by description and by sound. Each bird ID includes several songs and calls made by the bird and shows male and female plumage as well as what the bird looks like from fledgling to adult. 

Once a bird is identified, users can begin a record of birds seen.

For more advanced birders, the lab’s free eBird app can record a list of birds seen during a period of time, and users can include additional information under notes. Both apps require users to create a free Cornell Lab account.

Decide where you want to watch birds. You aren’t restricted to your own yard. You can go to a forest preserve, state park, nature trail or anywhere else you choose.

Spend at least 15 minutes or more at least once from Feb. 17-20, and identify the birds you see or hear and use one of these programs to share your list. 

For more information, go to birdcount.org where you can learn how to sign up for and use Merlin and eBird. 

Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.