Backyard Birds Open a Window on Science Through 25 Years of Project FeederWatch
By Hugh Powell
October 15, 2011
If you keep bird feeders, you’re keeping an eye on the natural world—and you can use what you see to help extend the reach of science. More than 15,000 people do that each year as part of Project FeederWatch, which began its 25th year on November 12. The combined data all those FeederWatchers have sent in—on just over 100 million individual birds so far—have made it a resoundingly successful citizen-science project.
The data have helped scientists understand the rhythms of bird irruptions, trace the course of emerging diseases, and get a handle on sudden population changes, like the seemingly unstoppable expansion of the Eurasian Collared-Dove or, more worryingly, the unexplained decline of the magnificent Evening Grosbeak.
Over the years, FeederWatchers have been privy to many memorable sightings, from misguided European finches turning up in North America to the perennial anticipation of the winter’s first siskin, redpoll, crossbill, or nuthatch. FeederWatch takes the memories and highlights at your own feeder and, by combining them with thousands of others, finds extra meaning in them. To date, nearly two dozen peer-reviewed scientific publications have drawn on Project FeederWatch data to explore subjects including seed choice, disease dynamics, predation by cats and hawks, and the emerging effects of climate change.
If you’re already a FeederWatcher, thank you for helping us to understand winter birds better. To the millions of others who keep feeders, we extend a warm invitation to join the project and take part in what has become an annual pleasure for many particpants. Join or find out more at the FeederWatch website.
Originally published in the Autumn 2011 issue of BirdScope.