by John Hughes

Do you like to watch birds? Are you looking for a classroom or nature club project? How about participating in a project that contributes to scientific understanding of changes in wintering areas of birds? Project FeederWatch may be just for you. This year will be my third year for this important project. Since I feed birds and enjoy watching them come to my feeders, this was a no brainer. Also, it is fun to see how many different species I can bring into the yard by offering a variety of food. I found that my identification skills became more focused; that I observed more infrequent visitors, and that spending more time watching my feeders captured rare bird interactions. It was a very rewarding experience, and I highly recommend it.

Project FeederWatch is a citizen science project that began in Ontario, Canada in the mid-1970s and partnered with Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology ten years later. It is a winter-long project starting in November and ending mid-April, in which participants periodically count birds at backyard feeders, birdbaths or other local areas with plantings that attract birds. Designed to help scientists track broadscale movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance, this is the perfect project for anyone who likes birds or wants to learn more about birds.

No particular skill level or background is necessary to participate in the project. Participants will receive a research kit and resources to help attract and identify common winter species including an interactive tool that allows participants to learn about the food and feeder preference of nearly 100 species and how to predict which birds can be attracted to an area. All you have to do is watch your feeder, birdbath or designated area as much or as little as you like, record what you see, and send in your data. There is an $18 fee for U.S. citizens ($15 for Cornell Lab members) necessary to analyze the data. Along with the research kit, you will receive a year-end report each fall and have access to Cornell’s digital version of Living Bird.

The data gathered by people like you will only become more important as predicted changes in climate continue to occur. Check out where you will find information on joining and access to a free on-line bird identification guide. You can also read about other people’s experience since joining FeederWatch.