Watch Birds, Do Science

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Are you interested in birds? Do you enjoy counting them, listing them, or watching them cavort around your backyard birdfeeder? Would you like that interest to benefit more than your natural curiosity and enjoyment?

There are lots of ways that you, as a birder, can make a significant contribution to science. You don’t need to be an expert birder. It doesn’t matter how old—or young—you are. You don’t need to don a white lab coat or, in some cases, even leave the house. In fact, you can do science in your bathrobe!

Results from citizen-science projects are already making a difference. The North American Landbird Conservation Plan depends on data collected from birders like us. Citizen science also has led to the purchase of land that hosts breeding populations of several declining species. Just as important, getting involved helps us learn more about birds and conservation, which leads to even more involvement!

Do you want to use your skills and enthusiasm to benefit birds? Here is one idea to get your started:

How often do birds come to your feeder? Does feeding them delay migration? Does it spread disease? If you stop feeding, will the birds starve? How else can you attract birds to your yard? Is the growing number of Eurasian Collared Doves harming natives such as Mourning Doves?

pine-siskin_blkforest_20100424_lah_3335Project FeederWatch, sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is one way you can collect data used to better understand birds, and answer questions such as these. You simply tally the birds at your feeders. If you don’t feed birds, you can count them at a friend’s house, nature center, or some other place where people are feeding wild birds.

You have to sign up to participate and pay the $15 fee that supports the program.

Once you are enrolled, you can participate as often as you like during the count period. (This year’s count just started on November 12, and it ends April 6, 2012. ) They ask that you pick two consecutive days to do your watching.

pygmy-nuthatch_kiowacreekranch-n-elpasoco-co_lah_3512You don’t have to be an expert birder, but you do need to know the species that come to your feeder. Can you tell a Lesser Goldfinch from an American Goldfinch, or a Cassin’s Finch from a House Finch, for example?

Because the skills needed are at the beginner level, this is a great project for kids. Generate some enthusiasm about the birds they see every day and you could be nurturing the next Roger Tory Peterson or David Sibley!

The project started in 1987. Now, every year an approximately 15,000 birdwatchers sign up to submit their feeder lists. Each participant’s data is combined with that of the other FeederWatchers to help scientists learn about topics such as trends in population numbers and ranges, disease, the impact of non-native birds, food preferences, irruptions of winter species, and other environmental factors that affect birds.

For more information and to get started, visit the Project FeederWatch website.

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