Got 15 minutes to spare this weekend? You can advance science from your own backyard.

Photo: Missy MandelCommon redpoll

Looking for something to do over the upcoming three-day weekend? Or got at least 15 minutes to spare? Consider joining more than 100,000 people around the world participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count. All you have to do is observe the number and kinds of birds you see, from any location you like, and boom! You’ve helped advance science.

The annual citizen science project, run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, helps biologists keep track of bird populations from year to year, but 2016 could be a particularly good time to raise your binoculars for the cause. Since it started in 1998, this is the first winter in which the count will take place during a major El Niño event. That means the data will be extra valuable, and the unusual weather patterns might make for some unexpected visitors. If you’re interested in keeping watch, sign up here. And in the mean time, check out some of the beauties and cuties photographed by past GBBC participants.

Photo: Diane McAllisterSnowy owl

Photo: Charlie PrinceDowny woodpecker

Photo: Carol PoulosBlack-capped chickadee

Photo: Mark EdenBlue jay

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