Project FeederWatch is one of the easiest and most popular citizen science projects available to birders in North America. With thousands of participating birders each year, Project FeederWatch is able to collect data about backyard birds that can be used to promote conservation and other important initiatives.
About the Project
Project FeederWatch began in 1976 in Canada with limited studies and seasonal counts of winter birds. Preliminary results suggested that the project would be even more effective on a larger scale, and today more than 15,000 individuals and coordinated groups participate in the annual program, cataloging more than 100 different species of backyard birds. A joint initiative of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Bird Studies Canada, the National Audubon Society and the Canadian Nature Federation, the data gathered through this five month program is invaluable to ornithologists and helps direct international bird conservation efforts.
How to Join
Any interested birdwatcher can participate in Project FeederWatch, as well as groups such as families, church or youth groups, classrooms, senior centers and businesses. The program is suitable for all ages and experience levels, and participating can help any birder perfect their backyard birding skills and learn more about their local flocks.
Applications for Project FeederWatch are accepted year round, but the survey period is from mid-November through early April. New participants can join at any time during the survey period and begin contributing their data right away.
There is a participation fee of $15 ($12 for Cornell Lab of Ornithology Members and $35 CAN for Canadian participants) to join the program. The fees pay for the provided materials, online support, the extensive website and data analysis. Program fees can also be given as gifts, and additional contributions can be made to help support the research. Major credit cards and personal checks are accepted as payment.
Participating in Project FeederWatch
Once you have joined Project FeederWatch, you will receive a program research kit that includes:
- Detailed participating instructions
- Tally sheet for recording bird counts
- Calendar to plan count days
- Regional backyard bird identification poster
- Bird identification tips
- A subscription to the appropriate laboratory bird publication
Participating in the program is simple. The participant designates the area to be watched, usually a backyard or garden that can be easily seen from windows. You also choose which days to watch the birds, allowing you flexibility to match your schedule. The days you count must be at least five days apart, and you will count for two consecutive days as your “count period.” Depending on how you choose to submit your data, you may watch birds weekly or biweekly. At the end of that period, you will report the highest totals of birds you observed to be correlated with thousands of other watchers’ data.
Many birders initially resist joining what seems to be a strictly regimented program, but Project FeederWatch is flexible. If you are unable to count during certain periods, that is fine – the data you are able to submit will still be valuable, even if you cannot participate during the entire season.
Reporting Your Data
Data for Project FeederWatch can be reported online or via mail-in forms. Online reporting is preferred for timeliness and convenience, but it is not required. When you report your bird count totals, use only the highest total of birds observed at one time to prevent counting the same birds twice. For example, if during your first observation you noted three black-capped chickadees at your feeder but an hour later there were four black-capped chickadees, you would report a total of four. Birds you should count include:
- Any birds visiting feeders or birdbaths
- Any birds that stop in your count area, even if they do not approach feeders
- Any birds that appear sick
- Only fly over your count area but do not stop
- Birds you see on your non-count days, even if they are unusual
When you report your bird counts, you will also be asked to include information about the count area habitat and weather during the count period, such as temperature, snow cover and precipitation. This information will help correlate variations in data as it is analyzed.
How the Data Helps Birds
The thousands of count reports submitted through Project FeederWatch are correlated and analyzed to offer a range of information about backyard birds, including:
- Disease outbreaks
- Seasonal irruptions
- Spreading or contracting winter ranges
- Changing bird distributions
- Large scale bird movements
- Abundance of different bird species
This data is not only useful for ornithologists, but it is also used to raise awareness of bird conservation issues and sudden changes in bird behavior that may indicate more severe ecological problems.
For more information about Project FeederWatch or to sign up as a participant, visit FeederWatch.org.
Photo – Winter Birdfeeding © Jean