Birding for Fun and Profit

Okay, it’s a click-bait sort of title.  You’re not going to gain any profit, save learning about your winter birds, by watching birds in your own back (or front!) yard, but you can aid ongoing research about North American birds by participating in Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s and Bird Studies Canada’s Project FeederWatch.  Besides, bird watching is fun and interesting, especially for bird geeks!  Who wouldn’t swoon at viewing this handsome chap?

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) bathing.  Check out the droplets of water on his feathers.  A year-round resident of Central Texas, Blue Jays are stunningly beautiful,  charming–and noisy!

Project Feederwatch enlists citizen scientists (a highfalutin, fancy-pants term for volunteer) to regularly watch birds from specific spots–back yards, front yards, community gardens–from November to April, and then report numbers and varieties of birds who show up due to something  placed to attract those birds.  Appropriate bird paraphernalia includes feeders (duh…), water features, houses and the like.  There are specific counting measures (easy to understand and follow) and the method for uploading to Cornell’s site is easy-peasy.  The weekly time commitment is whatever you want it to be (15 minutes or  hours-long), and with specific parameters–also doable.

The real treat is that instead of being a weird birder, you have a legitimate scientific excuse to watch birds such as this lovely guy:

Shy and wary, this Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus), is another year-round resident, but I only see them in my garden during winter and early spring.  He and his mate are mad for suet!

Research on North American bird populations by information gathered from regular bird-crazy folk and has yielded vital details about altered migratory patterns and populations, spread of diseases (like House Finch conjunctivitis), and how and what impacts birds throughout the continent.  The data collected assists scientist with the following  (from Project FeederWatch):

  • 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

And gosh darn it–birds are beautiful and vital for our gardens and the ecosystem as a whole.  Why wouldn’t you want to learn more about their habits if what you learn potentially helps them survive and thrive?

My winter birds are showing up and showing off!

An Orange-crowned Warbler (Oreothlypis celata) waits his turn at the suet feeder. He, his mate and other warblers will likely be present in my garden until April–then head north for breeding.

To participate, check out Project FeederWatch.  There’s a required small fee ($18) US, ($35) CAN, which covers various administrative costs.  Officially, Project FeederWatch started this past week, but jump in whenever you have the time and inclination–bird lovers everywhere will cheer and the fine folks at Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada will appreciate and utilize your efforts and data.

Additionally, if you love wild birds and regularly feed them, this timely Cornell’s All About Birds article is a reminder about the various types of feed appropriate for birds and is a good read, whether or not you participate in Project FeederWatch. It’s an excellent reminder that our choices of bird feed should be about their needs and not just what we think they should have.

Orange-crowned Warbler enjoying some fat-filled suet.

Happy backyard birding!