May 18, 2013
Written by Jack Sanders
Thursday, 11 December 2008 16:17
The Christmas Bird Count, the oldest “citizen science” program in the bird world is taking place the next few weekends (dates below in “Coming Up”). However, Project FeederWatch is a newer method of helping ornithologists is easier to participate in, and may appeal to many readers, especially those with children.
The current Project FeederWatch season has begun and runs through April 3. Participants count the numbers and kinds of birds at their feeders each week and send the information to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology via Web or mail.
Last season, participants submitted more than 115,000 checklists documenting unusual bird sightings, winter movements, and shifting ranges — “a treasure-trove of information that scientists use to monitor the health of the birds and of the environment,” said David Bonter, project leader at the Cornell Lab in Ithaca, N.Y.
“Being a FeederWatcher is easy and fun, and at the same time helps generate the world’s largest database on feeder-bird populations,” Mr. Bonter said. “Since we started in 1987, more than 40,000 people have submitted observations, engaging with the wildlife beyond their windows.”
He said scientists learn something new from the data each year, such as about the movements of common backyard birds or unusual sightings of rarely seen species.
The most recent season revealed the largest southward movement of Red-breasted Nuthatches in the 20-plus-year history of the project — part of an expected influx of northern birds that fly farther south when their food supplies run short. Other northern species showing up in record numbers included Common Repolls and Pine Siskins.
Among the rare birds reported was a Dovekie, deposited in Newton, Mass., by a December nor’easter, the first time this North Atlantic seabird has ever been reported to Project FeederWatch.
Long-term data show some species increasing in number, such as the Lesser Goldfinch in the Southwest and Eurasian Collared-Doves nationwide. Other populations continue a downward trend, such as the Evening Grosbeak throughout their range. “Once one of the most common species seen at feeders in the northern half of the continent, the grosbeaks are declining for unknown reasons,” Mr. Bonter said.
Project FeederWatch benefits not only birds and science, but also participants, the Cornell folks say. “Nature is not merely an amenity; it is critical to healthy human development and functioning,” says Nancy Wells, Cornell assistant professor of design and environmental analysis. She said her studies find that “a view of nature through the window or access to the environment in any way improves a child’s cognitive functioning and reduces the negative effects of stress on the child’s psychological well-being.” She added that when children spend time with nature early in life, “it carries over to their adult attitudes and behavior toward the environment.”
Project FeederWatch welcomes participants of all ages and skill levels, from scout troops and retirees to classrooms and nature center visitors. FeederWatch participants pay a $15 fee and receive the FeederWatcher’s Handbook, an identification poster of the most common feeder birds in their area, a calendar, complete instructions, and the FeederWatch annual report, “Winter Bird Highlights.”
To learn more and to sign up, visit www.feederwatch.org or call (800) 843-2473. Audubon Greenwich is having a special program on Operation FeederWatch on Dec. 20 — see “Coming Up” below.
Any reader who has spent time in Florida has probably seen the Eurasian Collared-Dove. Introduced there in the early 1980s, this species is now rapidly expanding its range across North America. Operation FeederWatchers from Miami to Washington State reported Eurasian Collared-Doves during the past season.
The species has yet to reach the Mid-Atlantic States and the Northeast, says Cornell Lab, but if the current expansion continues, Eurasian Collared-Doves “will soon be among the most common feeder birds everywhere in the United States.”
David Smith of McLaren Road in Darien has been watching the ground as well as the feeder. “We had a woodcock in our back yard several days before Thanksgiving,” he writes. “It hung out at the edge of our lawn near some shrubs and a mulch pile, and pretty much stayed in the same spot for several hours, bobbing up and down from time to time and poking at the ground. As it turned dark, we lost sight of it.
“I’ve never seen a woodcock here. In fact, my only other sighting was in 1969 in Freedom, N.H., when I saw a parent and three or four youngsters. They are certainly interesting-looking birds. Hard to spot because of their coloring, as the bird books advise.”
David also reports, “This is the second season for our woodpecker collection at our feeder. Our Red-Bellied, who eludes us all summer but is ever-present with his calls, is a regular, as are a Downy and a Hairy. Lovely to watch. Last year we had a flock of goldfinches through most of the winter, which we thought was unusual.”
Scouting Trip, for annual Bird Count, stops at coastal and inland sites, Saturday, Dec. 13, 9 to noon, Audubon Greenwich, 203-869-5272 x230, Greenwich.audubon.org.
Christmas Bird Count, Stamford/Greenwich, Sunday, Dec. 14, starting at midnight, Audubon Greenwich, 203-869-5272 x230, Greenwich.audubon.org.
Coastal Holiday Birding, along the shore from Old Lyme to Groton, Wednesday, Dec. 17, noon to evening, with dinner at inn, $40/$45, Connecticut Audubon, 800-996-8747.
Christmas Bird Count, Peekskill circle, Saturday, Dec. 20, 8 to 4, Bedford Audubon, bedfordaudubon.org, 845-677-3993.
Project Feeder Watch, all about this citizen science program, Saturday, Dec. 20, 1 to 2:30, Audubon Greenwich, 203-869-5272 x230, Greenwich.audubon.org.
Bird walks with Luke Tiller, mostly Saturdays at 8 a.m., $10 each; to register, www. sunrisebirding. com/ walks.htm; 203-981-9924, luke.tiller @ gmail.com.
First Sundays, birding at Greenwich Point with Meredith Sampson of Wild Wings, and other guides, Jan. 4, Feb. 1, March 1, April 5, May 3, meet at the second concession stand, 203-637-9822.
Copyright (c) 2008 by Jack Sanders. Send sightings or comments to: jackfsanders [at sign] yahoo.com, or to Bird Notes, Box 1019, Ridgefield, CT 06877; or call 203-438-1183, extension BIRD (2473), and leave a message with your report, spelling your first and last names and telling us your town. If you need help identifying a bird, try your local nature center. If you find an injured bird, call wildlife rehabilitator Darlene Wimbrow of Redding, 203-438-0618, Wildlife in Crisis of Weston, 203-544-9913, or Wild Wings of Greenwich, 203-637-9822. The columnist’s website is www. sandersbooks. com.
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