Thursday, January 7, 2010

Winter Bird Feeding...Making it count

The feeders are up, you're keeping them full, and dozens of birds are flocking to feed in your yard.  The sight of all those birds comprising various species is wonderful entertainment.  Friends and family may be impressed by your living wild bird show when they come to visit.  Your life list and yard list will grow by leaps and bounds and be a source of pride to share with your birdfeeding buddies.  But is it enough?  Is there anything you could do to make bird feeding scientifically relevant?  Yes!

Make bird feeding count.  Take the chance to make every chickadee, titmouse, and sparrow matter.  Life lists and yard lists are of great personal benefit, but they're also of importance for conservation of species and habitat in your area.  Individual observations are crucial additions to the data needed to monitor species population numbers, species distributions, and migration patterns for many of our most common bird species.  Scientists, researchers, and conservationists would never have the ability to track most species without the contributions of private citizens like you and I.

So where do you share your observations?  There are a number of citizen science projects available to willing participants.  Some are short, seasonal projects while others are long-term, on-going projects.  Some require higher levels of commitment than others.  Most are free and a few charge nominal fees for participation and continued execution of the project.  Here are three of my favorites:

Project FeederWatch
This is a winter-long survey of birds that visit bird feeders at backyards, nature centers, and other locations all across the continent.  Every other week, participants count the birds they see at their feeders from November to early April and send their data to Project FeederWatch.  The data is used by scientists to track broadscale movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance.  The project is operated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada.  This is my third year as a FeederWatcher, and we count for Project FeederWatch every other weekend in the museum.

Great Backyard Bird Count
From the GBBC website: "The Great Backyard Bird Count is an annual four-day event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the continent and in Hawaii. Anyone can participate, from beginning bird watchers to experts. It takes as little as 15 minutes on one day, or you can count for as long as you like each day of the event."  This year's event takes place from February 12-15, 2010.  This will be my fourth year as a participant of this great event.  Watch the sanctuary program calendar for programs associated with this year's Great Backyard Bird Count.

From the eBird website: "A real-time, online checklist program, eBird has revolutionized the way that the birding community reports and accesses information about birds. Launched in 2002 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, eBird provides rich data sources for basic information on bird abundance and distribution at a variety of spatial and temporal scales."

"The observations of each participant join those of others in an international network of eBird users. eBird then shares these observations with a global community of educators, land managers, ornithologists, and conservation biologists. In time these data will become the foundation for a better understanding of bird distribution across the western hemisphere and beyond."

My favorite parts of this program are its free, your lists are stored in your online account, and you can explore bird sightings for birds, locations, and geographic regions all over the continent.  Sightings can be submitted anytime from anywhere you saw birds.
Click the buttons on the right side of the blog to reach any of the above project websites.  For more citizen science projects, please visit these websites:
Please make it count.  Every bird matters!

Happy bird feeding,

Adam Zorn, Naturalist

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