Central U.S. bird watch participants aid scientists by counting feeder birdsBird watchers across the central United States can help chart the impact of global climate change and other factors on feeder birds-and have fun at the same time.
Bird watchers across the central United States can help chart the impact of global climate change and other factors on feeder birds-and have fun at the same time.
Participants in Project FeederWatch, a citizen-science project at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, have already documented changes in the distribution and numbers of feeder birds over the 20-year history of the project. Anyone can contribute observations during the winter months.
“Predicted increases in winter temperatures will certainly lead to changes in the distribution of birds. We are already seeing some species expand their ranges north through the central U.S.,” said ornithologist and project leader David Bonter. For example, data from volunteer FeederWatchers in the region show that Carolina Wrens have been expanding their range to the north and west into the region, an expansion that Bonter says has probably been facilitated by a series of relatively mild winters.
In addition to an increase in wren reports, FeederWatchers in the region are reporting more Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s hawks each winter. The hawks are typically found in the region during the breeding season and migrate south in winter. However, the recent reports indicate that more hawks are lingering in the north in winter.
FeederWatchers help to document changes in the abundance and distribution of birds by simply watching and counting the birds at their own feeders.
Each season brings new information about bird populations. Last winter, for instance, participants in the central U.S. reported surprisingly few Pine Siskins. Routinely among the Top 25 species seen at bird feeders in the region prior to 2003, this small finch failed to make the Top 30 during the winter of 2006-07. Continentwide, siskin reports were also lower than normal last winter. Although the numbers of siskins have typically fluctuated over the 20-year history of the program, the reasons for the lack of siskins across North America last winter are unknown.
What will the coming winter bring to bird feeders? You can help document changes in bird populations. The 21st season of Project FeederWatch gets under way in November and runs through early April 2008. Anyone in the United States and Canada can participate, and people of all ages and skill levels are welcome.
To learn more about Project FeederWatch or to register, visit www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw or call the Lab toll-free at (800) 843-2473. In return for the $15 fee ($12 for Lab members) new participants receive the FeederWatcher’s Handbook, an identification poster of the most common feeder birds, a calendar, complete instructions, and the publication Winter Bird Highlights featuring project results.
“FeederWatchers across the central U.S. have helped create the world’s largest database of feeder-bird populations,” said David Bonter. “To understand the effects of global climate change and other factors on birds, we need new and veteran participants alike to keep reporting their observations now and well into the future.”
The Central region for Project FeederWatch includes North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri.
Top 10 species reported by FeederWatchers in the Central U.S. region in 2007: Dark-eyed Junco, Downy Woodpecker, Chickadee (Black-capped and Carolina), American Goldfinch, Blue Jay, Northern Cardinal, White-breasted Nuthatch, House Finch, Red-bellied Woodpecker and Mourning Dove.