Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Project FeederWatch

It’s that time of year again! Not Halloween, not autumn, not back-to-school.

It is FeederWatch time!

All across North America, backyard scientists are cleaning up their bird feeders, restocking their bird seed and preparing for a winter of counting native birds for Cornell University’s Project FeederWatch.

Project FeederWatch offers a unique opportunity for anyone with a willingness to participate: the chance to be a citizen scientist collecting valuable scientific data on wild birds. In backyards and school yards across the continent, people like you are vital to gathering information on migratory bird movement and population density.

Field biologists can only be in a limited number of locations, informed citizens can provide valuable eyes and ears for science. Data collected by school children and birding hobbyists for Project FeederWatch has identified specific bird species expanding their territory north in response to climate change. Last year varied thrushes were documented further east than ever before and western hummingbird species were spotted on the east coast. Observations at bird feeders typically identify the first outbreaks of avian disease and provide vital information on the pattern by which the disease spreads.

Scientists around the world use Project FeederWatch’s 20 years of data to study population cycles, migration patterns and the effects of human activity on the natural world.

Can you make a difference counting birds visiting a feeder on your apartment balcony? YES!

When your sightings are combined with those of thousands of other FeederWatchers, every bird you see, or don’t see, helps scientists have a more complete picture of bird populations across the country.

Even if you are just beginning to recognize your local birds, your observations are valuable. In October I gave a workshop on how to participate in Project FeederWatcher at the Wild Birds Unlimited store in Woodland Hills, CA.

In its 20th year, Project FeederWatch needs you more than ever. Whether you count on a ranch, an office balcony or a school yard, information on wild birds is vital to understanding the effects of global warming, how avian flu might travel across the country and, most importantly, the health of our planet. Wild birds travel around the globe, they are “the canaries in the coal mine.”

The effect of West Nile virus is decreasing in my neighborhood. How do I know? Because I have been a FeederWatcher for six years. We went from seeing scrub jays every time we counted to recording NONE for 2 years. Now, we see an occasional young pair. The scrub jays are making a come back. The ruby-crowned kinglet has returned for the winter, but this time it has a friend. I have come to know the birds that visit my yard as neighbors and individuals. Get to know your wild neighbors and Make A Difference–count birds for Project FeederWatch.

To learn more about Project FeederWatch or to register, visit or call the Lab toll-free at (800) 843-2473. In return for the $15 fee that supports the program ($12 for Lab members) participants receive the FeederWatcher’s Handbook, a poster of the most common feeder birds, a calendar, complete instructions, a subscription to Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s newsletter, BirdScope, and the FeederWatch Winter Bird Highlights. The season runs from November 11 to April 6, and participants may join at any time.

It’s our 20th year, and we’re counting on citizen scientists to help us track birds for the next 20 years.

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