I had planned to write this last week, but got side-tracked. Fortunately, it isn't too late to recruit a few more Citizen Scientists, who may be as young as grade schoolers or as old as retired scholars.
Project FeederWatch began in neighboring Ontario, Canada, around 1976 when Dr. Erica Dunn established the Ontario Bird Feeder Survey. "After 10-years with over 500 observers, its organizers realized that only a continental survey could accurately monitor the large-scale movements of birds. So Long Point Bird Observatory decided to expand the survey to cover all of North America."
Realizing they would need a strong partner in this venture, Long Point approached the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, knowing of its connection with thousands of birders. With Long Point's success, "Project FeederWatch was a hit from the start." Its participants now number more than 20,000 and if you are interested in wild birds, and have a bird feeder to watch, you can apply. If you want the full story, go to feederwatch.org.
Today, FeederWatch continues as a cooperative research project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada (formerly the Long Point Bird Observatory). and is a winter-long survey of birds that visit feeders at backyards, nature centers, community areas and other locales in North America. Feeder watchers periodically count the birds they see at their feeders from November through early April.
According to the project coordinators: "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 our 16-page, year-end report, 'Winter Bird Highlights.' Participants also receive access to the digital version of 'Living Bird,' the Cornell Lab's award-winning, quarterly magazine." Feeder watchers count the number of each individual bird of each species they see several times throughout the winter. These numbers combined with those of thousands of other watchers become extremely valuable for explaining gradual changes in the wintering ranges of many species. "In short, FeederWatch data are important because they provide information about bird population biology that cannot be detected by any other available method."
There is an $18 annual participation fee for U.S. residents ($15 for Cornell Lab members). Canadians can participate by joining Bird Studies Canada for CAN $35. The participation fee covers materials, staff support, web design, data analysis and the year-end report ("Winter Bird Highlights"). To join go to feederwatch.org/join-or-renew/ or call 800-843-2473.
The 2018-19 FeederWatch season begins Nov. 10. New participants are sent a Research Kit with complete instructions for participating, as well as a bird identification poster and more.
A READER ASKS ...
Q: Last year, you provided the address for a bird identification program that could be run on a smart phone. I cut it out, but lost it. If you still have the information would you pass it along?
— Agnes, Pittsfield
A: We all need help identifying birds from time to time and if you can't carry a bird identification book or two with you, and there is no one nearby who may help you, the Cornell Laboratory has developed Merlin. It is a program that I carry on my iPad, but just as easily could have on my Android smart phone. It identifies more than 2,000 bird species, provided you can answer five questions (correctly). Questions like, location, date, color, size, behavior. It is no more infallible than your favorite bird guide. (I use several and sometimes still need to call a fellow birder for suggestions). I recall a few years back I could not ID a bird perched on our shed roof. I photographed it and sent it to one of the best birders I know. He had no idea and sent it to the best birder he could get in touch with at the time, who instantly knew. It turned out to be an immature cow bird in an unlikely plumage.
You can visit merlin.allaboutbirds.org/download. It loads quickly and is easy to use.
Thom Smith welcomes readers' questions and comments. Email him at Naturewatch@live.com or write him care of The Berkshire Eagle, 75 S. Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201.