Thursday, November 20, 2008

Eyes on Birds, Project FeederWatch Season is Now

Thousands of bird watchers in Georgia and across the nation will be keeping a close eye on their feeders this winter as part of Project FeederWatch. The 22nd season for this popular citizen-science project runs from Saturday, Nov. 8, through April 3.

FeederWatch participants help scientists monitor changes in bird populations by tracking birds at their feeders during the 21 weeks. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources encourages Georgians to join in, contributing to the science, conservation and enjoyment of North American feeder birds.

Todd Schneider, a wildlife biologist with the DNR’s Wildlife Resources Division, said a major benefit is that the effort spurs people’s interest in wildlife, in general. “It also tends to get them more interested in watching birds,” Schneider said.

Participants in the joint Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada project submitted more than 115,000 checklists during the 2007-2008 season, documenting unusual bird sightings, winter movements and shifting ranges, according to FeederWatch. Project leader David Bonter said in a statement that “being a FeederWatcher is easy and fun, and at the same time helps generate the world’s largest database on feeder-bird populations.”

Project FeederWatch surveys birds that visit feeders at backyards, nature centers, community areas and other sites. Participants periodically count the highest numbers of each species they see at their feeders for the period. The data help scientists track broad-scale movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance.

Watchers also benefit. More than 100 studies have shown that getting closer to nature reduces stress and promotes a feeling of well being, according to a Project FeederWatch news release.

Highlights from the most recent season include the largest southward movement of red-breasted nuthatches in the project’s history, part of an expected influx of northern birds flying farther south when their food supplies run short, according to FeederWatch. Among rare birds reported was a streak-backed oriole in Loveland, Col. – the state’s first report of this Mexico native – and a dovekie deposited by a December nor’easter in Newton, Mass., the first time this North Atlantic seabird has been recorded in Project FeederWatch.

Long-term data show some species increasing in number, such as the lesser goldfinch in the Southwest, and others declining, including the evening grosbeak throughout its range, an unexplained phenomenon, according to the organization.

The project is conducted by individuals and groups of all skill levels. While the season recently opened, participants are encouraged to join any time.

To learn more or sign up, visit www.feederwatch.org or call the Cornell Lab of Ornithology at (800) 843-2473. The fee is $15 ($12 for lab members). Participants receive the “FeederWatcher’s Handbook,” an identification poster of the most common feeder birds in their area, a calendar, instructions and the FeederWatch annual report, “Winter Bird Highlights.”

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