For many years we participated in Project FeederWatch, a program designed by a Canadian Bird Observatory and now associated with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  We have took a sabbatical the past few years, but I decided it was time to renew our membership and once again be part of this great Citizen Science project that helps scientists understand more about the bird populations in North America during the winter months.

Through data collected by FeederWatch volunteers, scientists can begin to analyze the distribution and abundance of more than 100 bird species.  This is important information because it can provide an insight into the population of birds that can’t be found by any other available method.  Since 1976 in Canada and 1986 here in the U.S., data has been collected through the observations of local citizens.  This sort of long term data can show a decline in a particular species and once bird population scientists see this trend, they can evaluate aspects of their species habitat needs and other factors that might be causing the decline. For example is the necessary food supply lacking? Has the habitat changed where the birds breed or overwinter? Or have other species moved into their area that may be competing for the same resources?  It can also show whether a species has moved from one part of the country to another.     

regionmap_for Feederwatch

The country divided into regions for Feeder Watch participants

Beginning on November 14th people all over the country will begin counting the birds at their feeders.  It is really quite simple and if you are one of the millions of Americans who feed birds through the winter months I highly encourage you to join in the fun.


The time investment is minimal and since you are probably already looking out the windows to see what birds are at the feeder, all you have to do is count the numbers of each species at one particular time and write it down on a piece of paper. Throughout two consecutive days of your choosing you do this.  You do this every week, or as often as you are able.

siskin on feeder

Pine Siskin on thistle feeder. Photo by Mike Link

The goal is to report the highest number at any one time.  For instance, if I’m looking out our kitchen window and see 4 black-capped chickadees at one time at the various feeders (or in the trees or on the ground) I write that number down.  If however, I pass by the window a little later and see 8 chickadees all at once, I cross out that first number and write the larger.  And so it goes.  Each species you see is counted.  It is a bit like a treasure hunt, because you never know for sure what you might see, even thoughour winter birds tend to be pretty consistent.  Occasionally someone new shows up and like a kid finding the last Easter egg, you celebrate.  And speaking of kids, this is a great way to introduce them to the joy of birdwatching.  It is a challenge to try to count the birds as they move around and what better way to learn to recognize new species, than when they are easily visible on your feeders.

The more and varied feeders you have, the more variety and numbers you should see.  It may also encourage you to plant more bird friendly shrubs and trees come next spring. A bird bath or any source of water is an especially attractive feature, though it is hard to keep one without turning to ice in the northern regions of the country.

The small participation fee of $18 covers materials, staff support, web design, data analysis, and a year-end report (Winter Bird Highlights). As a new member you will receive a kit in the mail with all the information you need to begin, plus a great poster with pictures of the birds for your region of the country.  This program’s success is completely dependent on those who join and participate.  It is an entertaining, educational, and far reaching project.  This will be the beginning of the 28th season and the number of participants involved in FeederWatch has grown to more than 20,000.  To join just click on the link above and you will find all you need. Even if you don’t join there are lots of great interactive maps and graphs on the site, as well as excellent bird information.

red-breasted nuthatch on feeder

Red-breasted nuthatch. Photo by Mike Link

As an additional suggestion, I would highly recommend a film we just watched through Netflix.  It is called Birders: The Central Park Effect. This excellent and entertaining film documents just how important an oasis of green in a massive urban area can be for migrating birds and the people who live there and discover the beauty of birds.  Each of us, in our own small way, can provide an oasis for birds too.