Red-breasted Nuthatch at feeder Red-breasted Nuthatch by bison_bill_c.
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I ran into Project FeederWatch leader David Bonter yesterday as I was having lunch beside Sapsucker Woods Pond. David was dressed in jeans and carrying a sack of sunflower seeds, nearly empty from his feeder-filling trip around the pond. It’s been chilly in Ithaca lately, with hard frosts and crisp air sending titmice, chickadees, and juncos to our feeders in droves. David reminded me that it’s time for people to start signing up for this winter’s FeederWatch.

Winter is boom time for your bird feeders. As summer’s abundance vanishes, your feeders become more and more important to any species brave enough to stick out the winter up north. They’re valuable to you, too, enlivening your yard with sparks of color and action on gray days. But it doesn’t stop there: the birds at your feeder can contribute to science, too.

With millions of bird feeders spread fairly evenly across the U.S. and Canada, all we need are participants to tell us what they’re seeing. Each year, about 15,000 people do just that. When they contribute their data, the sightings become something more than a collection of birds outside the window. They begin to show us where the whole continent’s birds are spending the winter. And with enough time and participation, they give us an idea of how populations are faring. The key to making the information usable is to collect as much as possible, so our researchers can detect trends. That’s why we’d love to someday have 150,000 participants.

Joining FeederWatch is easy, inexpensive, and convenient. Here’s a rundown of the important facts:

  • Joining costs $15, which covers your project kit and helps support the FeederWatch website and the scientists who operate the program and analyze the data (more about this). Lab members get 20% off!
  • All participants receive a Common Feeder Birds poster to help with identification, our Winter Bird Highlights publication, and one year (four issues) of the Lab’s newsletter, BirdScope
  • The season starts November 8 and runs until April 3. (You can still join after November 8, but why wait?)
  • Each week, you’ll keep track of the birds you see at your feeder for two consecutive days, then tell us the maximum number of each species you saw at any one time
  • Report your sightings to us either online or through the mail
  • Wait at least five days, then count again
  • Don’t worry if you can’t watch every single week of the winter – your data are still valuable to us
  • See the full project details here

Take a tour around the Project FeederWatch website: hear participants’ stories, read tips on feederwatching, get kids involved, browse the FAQ, and check out the great American Tree Sparrow in the FeederWatch photos section.

Then join!

If your yard’s like my yard, the birds are already knocking at your door.


Cornell Lab of Ornithology

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