As many of you well know, I am an enthusiastic participant of the citizen science program known as Project FeederWatch. Led by the ornithology department at Cornell University, Project FeederWatch enlists the help of the general public to monitor bird populations across North America. Simply by recording the different species that visit your backyard feeders and the total number in attendance, you can help scientists identify trends in bird behaviors such as migration patterns and changes in nesting grounds. They also keep an eye on how human development and industrialization affect avian species, and data surrounding declining populations can be used to advocate for critical environmental reform. In other words, a fun activity that you can enjoy with your children on the weekends can make a HUGE contribution to environmental conservation without seeming like “work” for your family. In fact, the welcome package comes with a poster (below) that helps identify common feeder birds in your area and the website is interactive so you can observe trends in your own data. It’s fun!
Yesterday, Saturday November 14th, was opening day for the 2020-2021 FeederWatch season. This is my 3rd season participating and we seem to view a few new-to-us species every year. Already, we’ve added Blue Jays (who are apparently OBSESSED with peanuts, and my husband’s new favorite backyard bird) and a tiny Tufted Titmouse. We also had some tried and true veterans return to the yard including Mourning Doves, Downy Woodpeckers, Carolina Wrens, House Sparrows, European Starlings, Song Sparrows, Dark Eyed Juncos and House Finches. The one-legged fellow shown below is a House Finch we affectionately refer to as Claude. He’s been with us a few years now and puts a smile on my face every time he visits. I love his tenacious nature and, selfishly, it makes me feel good to know that we have helped provide him with the resources to overcome his physical limitations. At one point, I contacted the Project FeederWatch team to ask about Claude’s leg. They encourage participants to share photos of any anomalies (color distinctions/leucism, deformities, disease, etc.) to support their ever-growing dataset. The team member I spoke with claimed it was of equal likelihood that the missing limb was a developmental error or the result of an injury. Either way, I think he’s handsome!
I know this pandemic has all of us stuck at home and we reached the “stir-crazy” stage about six months ago, but there are ways to keep ourselves (and your little ones) busy and they have the potential to benefit wildlife too. If you’re looking to add some excitement to your quarantine life and give Mother Nature a helping hand, check out the Project FeederWatch program. You can sign up at anytime throughout the year; the current counting season runs through April 9th, 2021. Need a little extra incentive to support our feathered friends? Many species of birds that visit feeders in winter months eat seeds from plants we consider weeds as well as pesky insects throughout the summer months, and are therefore highly beneficial garden companions. Counting or not, I hope you’ll consider putting some seed out to help your local birds through the cold months. Cheers, friends!