It's For the Birds
watching is the fastest-growing outdoor activity in North America. And
backyard bird feeding is a great way for bird watchers to enjoy seeing birds
up-close. If you feed the birds in your yard each winter, you can turn your
hobby into research for bird conservation through Project FeederWatch.
populations provide one of the best indicators of environmental health. They
are dynamic and change rapidly from place to place and from year to year.
Citizen science projects like Project FeederWatch provide data so that bird
research and conservation organizations can monitor such long-term changes
as species decline and shifts in wintering ranges, track the seasonal
movements of irruptive species and chart the spread of illnesses in bird
been experiencing dramatic weather changes via climate change, which have
been impacting bird populations. For instance, in
2005/06, Canada experienced its warmest winter since modern record-keeping
began, with average temperatures 3.9 degrees Celsius above normal. As a
result, more northern birdwatchers than ever before were treated to
sightings of southern birds like the Red-bellied Woodpecker and the Northern
Kerrie Wilcox, the Canadian coordinator of Project
FeederWatch, says that the percentage of feeders visited by Red-bellied
Woodpeckers in Ontario, Canada reached an all-time high in that time period,
occurring at nearly fifteen percent of feeders. That’s because the Red-bellied Woodpecker’s
range has been creeping northward from its core in the mid-Atlantic and
southeastern U.S. states over the last decade; it rarely visited more than five
percent of sites just five years ago.
the same way, Northern Cardinals were reported at a whopping seventy-two percent of
feeders in Ontario during the same winter. This southern species was almost
unheard of in the province a hundred years ago.
expansions in southern species such as these could be a signal that changes
in climate are making northern regions more hospitable. Likewise, it would
be expected that birds located at the southern edge of their range would
retract with warmer climatic conditions.
fate of the Evening Grosbeak is one bird that scientists are trying to
understand. Many people who used to see these raucous birds descend on their
feeders in large numbers now report that they haven’t spotted one in years.
Reports from bird-monitoring volunteers who count the birds at their feeders
as part of Project FeederWatch, show that Evening Grosbeaks are, indeed,
declining. In fact, Evening Grosbeaks are now completely missing from many
areas where they were common as recently as the early 1990s.
Project FeederWatch had its roots in Canada in the mid-1970s. Through the
Long Point Bird Observatory on Lake Erie, Ontario, Dr. Erica Dunn
established the Ontario Feeder Bird survey in 1976. It is now a winter-long survey of birds that visit feeders
at backyards, nature centers, community areas, and other locales across North
America and is operated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies
FeederWatchers periodically count the birds they see at their
feeders from November through early April and send their counts to Project
FeederWatch. FeederWatch data help scientists track broadscale movements of
winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and
Anyone interested in birds can participate. FeederWatch is conducted by
people of all skill levels and backgrounds, including children, families,
individuals, classrooms, retired persons, youth groups, Nature centers, and
bird clubs. Participants watch their feeders as much or as little as they
want over two consecutive days as often as every week (less often is fine).
They count birds that appear in their count site because of something that
they provided (plantings, food, or water).
New participants are sent a
Research Kit with complete instructions for participating, as well as a
bird identification poster and more. You provide the feeder(s) and seed.
Then each fall participants receive a sixteen-page, year-end report,
Winter Bird Highlights and a newsletter.
There is a small annual participation fee, which covers materials, staff
support, web design, data analysis, and the year-end report. The project is supported almost entirely by
these participation fees.
It's a great way to get your family outside into Nature over the winter,
while conducting some Citizen Science.