Every year after the autumn Daylight Savings Time goes into effect, my mood follows. Even though the sun has not suddenly shifted further south overnight, the arrival of darkness an hour earlier is just plain hard on my psyche. Luckily it is shortly after this that the annual FeederWatch program starts. This is offered through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and I have been participating for the past 17 years. This Citizen Science project contributes to
“monitoring the distribution and abundance of winter bird populations”.
I need inspiration on these dark November days and paying extra close attention to our bird feeders and the birds coming to them gives my days more focus and purpose. Here in northern Minnesota our resident bird species are greatly reduced in the winter months, so we live in anticipation (and hope) of some rare or uncommon species to show up, if only for a day or two. When you sign up for FeederWatch, you decide how much time you want to invest in the counting days.
Over the years the Cornell Lab has broadened the opportunities for people who join FeederWatch. You can now enter photographs in a contest called BirdSpotter. Maybe you are someone who has a camera on a tripod aimed at your feeders. Now you have a place to send those photos – both for the weekly contest, but also just for the enjoyment of the other folks participating in FeederWatch. Even if you don’t send in any photos – you can vote on the ones that are submitted. Two lucky people will be chosen as the winners every other week. The prizes are quite nice and would be welcomed by any birdwatcher or feeder.
I am a big fan of Citizen Science projects. It is a way to engage more people with nature and to help the scientists in the process, to learn more about specific populations, habitat needs, disease outbreaks, and shifting of species due to climate change. There are so many different ways to be engaged now with a variety of birds. There is the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count, breeding bird atlases, nesting Loon surveys, nestbox surveys, Bluebird trails (nestboxes), Hawk migration counts, and surveys of Owls, Cranes, seabirds, shorebirds, Hummingbirds and Nighthawks to give you an idea of the range.
The Christmas Bird Count is celebrating its 119th year and will happen between December 14th and January 5th. You can go to their site and find the map that indicates where the counts will take place and how to join. There is always an official compiler in the group to record and report the sightings. So you can be a beginner or experienced birder and still participate fully.
If you’re not able or interested in participating in a group event you can still add important data through the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) which is also organized by Audubon, along with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Over the President’s Day weekend in February you can count the birds each day in your backyard/community and then enter the results online.
It is hoped that these programs will excite and welcome newcomers to the hobby of birdwatching. These Citizen Science programs bring together science, sport and conservation. What could be better?
By Kate Crowley