Help FeederWatch Survey the Health & Behavior of Backyard Birds

Lesser Goldfinch by David F. Smith/Project FeederWatch

Ithaca, NY, Oct. 30, 2018It’s amazing what we can learn when tens of thousands of eyes are focused on one thing. Those eyes don’t miss much. For more than 30 years, people who feed wild birds have been reporting their observations to Project FeederWatch at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. FeederWatch participants turn their hobby of feeding birds – a hobby more than 50-million strong in North America – into scientific discoveries. Their reports help scientists better understand what happens to birds facing challenges such as climate change, habitat loss, and disease.

The 2018-2019 season of FeederWatch kicks off on November 10.

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The spread of House Finch eye disease is a clear example of the value of this citizen science project. First reports of the disease came from sharp-eyed FeederWatchers in 1994. The Cornell Lab has been tracking the disease ever since by collecting vital information about sick birds from FeederWatchers. From that data, Cornell Lab scientists know the disease is spreading beyond House Finches.

“We’re finding other finch species are being affected,” says FeederWatch leader Emma Greig. “This includes feeder favorites such as the American Goldfinch, Purple Finch, Lesser Goldfinch, and Evening Grosbeak. Not only that, the pathogen that causes House Finch eye disease is becoming stronger and more dangerous. These stronger strains are nearly twice as deadly to the birds.”

FeederWatch reports have also been used in scientific studies of bird behavior to create a continental dominance hierarchy–which species displace others for access to feeder food. More data on species interactions will be collected during the 2018-19 season. The graphic shows which of six species is more dominant relative to the others, based on data collected by FeederWatchers. The higher a bird’s score, the more swagger it has at the feeder. Check out the FeederWatch interactive graphic showing dominance relationships for 13 species.

“FeederWatch is easy to do and participants tell us they find so much joy in tracking their feeder birds and in making a contribution to science,” Greig says. Participants make two-day counts from November through early April. They can spend as much or as little time as they like collecting data. Even counting birds once or twice all winter is a valuable contribution. But many people count birds more often.

Project FeederWatch is a joint research and education project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada. To join tens of thousands of other FeederWatch participants, sign up online at FeederWatch.org or call the Cornell Lab toll-free at (866) 989-2473. In Canada, contact Bird Studies Canada at (888) 448-2473, toll free.

In return for a participation fee of $18 in the U.S. ($15 for Cornell Lab members) or a donation of any amount in Canada, participants receive the FeederWatch Handbook and Instructions with tips on how to successfully attract birds to feeders, an identification poster of the most common feeder birds, and a calendar. Participants also receive Winter Bird Highlights, an annual summary of FeederWatch findings. Those making a minimum donation of $35 in Canada will receive a subscription to Bird Studies Canada’s magazine, BirdWatch Canada.