Project FeederWatch is a winter-long project which surveys the birds that visit feeders or other food sources like berry or fruit bearing shrubs in backyards or nature centers, community areas, and other public locales. Participants count the birds at their designated sites on a regular schedule, usually once a week, from early November through early April. They do the counts over two consecutive days and then report those counts to Project FeederWatch. Most participants enter their totals directly online, but there is a provision for those who prefer to report manually, by mail.
One doesn't have to have any particular expertise in order to participate in this project. You only have to be able identify the species and to count. People of all skill levels including children, retired persons, youth groups, bird clubs, classrooms, and average backyard birders like me are doing the count.
New participants get a research kit that instructs them on how to participate. The participant provides the seed and feeders or plantings, water, etc., to attract the birds.
Project FeederWatch is sponsored jointly by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada. Participants in the United States receive the Lab's newsletter Living Bird News, while Canadian participants receive BirdWatch Canada. There is a participation fee, $12 for Cornell Lab members and CAN $35 for citizens in Canada. This covers all the materials, web design, staff support, as well as a year-end report, Winter Bird Highlights.
The data reported by participants help to track the winter movements of birds across the continent. The numbers reported allow scientists to detect changes in the wintering ranges of species and can give early warning of declines in species and of species that may be at risk of becoming threatened or endangered.
The massive amounts of data collected by FeederWatchers across the continent, once collated and analyzed, help scientists to understand:
- long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance
- the timing and extent of winter irruptions of winter finches and other species
- expansions or contractions in the winter ranges of feeder birds
- the kinds of foods and environmental factors that attract birds
- how disease is spread among birds that visit feeders