The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada jointly operate one of my favorite citizen science projects each winter. It is called Project FeederWatch and it enlists birders around North America in a winter-long survey of birds that visit backyard feeders, as well as nature centers and other public spaces. The survey runs from the second Saturday of November through the first Friday of April and reports from participants provide valuable information about the movements of bird populations throughout the continent during the coldest months of the years. It also gives clues as to the health and numbers of those populations. All of this information is collected and provided to ornithologists who can evaluate it and plan ways to better protect and assist birds in their fight for survival.
FeederWatchers agree to periodically count the birds that they see at their feeders or other designated sites and report their findings through the website. There is also provision for participants to report using manual forms if they don't have access to a computer or if they just prefer to do it that way. Participants do not need any particular skill level. People of any age, children through retirement, can participate. All it takes is an interest in birds and a willingness to record and report what you see.
FeederWatchers count birds that appear in their designated site because of something that is provided there. It may be plantings or water, as well as a bird feeder. One reports the highest number of individual birds of any given species that one sees at one time during the count period. The count period consists of two consecutive days once every two weeks (or you can do every week if you are reporting online and wish to do so). You select the days when you want to count and you can spend as much or as little time as you want during those days doing the count. Sound simple? Of course it is!
There is a participation fee of $15, or $12 for members of the Lab of Ornithology (CAN$35 for Canadian participants). This fee pays for the materials, staff support, web design, data analysis, and a year-end report. The project is paid for almost entirely with participation fees.
FeederWatch results are shared with ornithologists and bird lovers throughout North America and they are regularly published in scientific journals. And you can be a part of all this! If you haven't already done so, go to the Project FeederWatch website (link in the first paragraph) and sign up. It is fun, it's easy, I guarantee you'll learn a lot about the birds in your yard, and, most importantly, it is for the birds.