I have filed my last report for the 2013-2014 Project FeederWatch season. It marks the 21st such report I have submitted to the program that is run by Cornell Lab of Ornithology. FeederWatch was founded in 1987, an offshoot of a feeder survey program founded in 1976 by Ontario, Canada’s Long Point Observatory. In its first year, FeederWatch enrolled 4,000 observers and today counts more than 20,000 participants, according to the Lab’s website. The Lab notes that its program produces data that provides an invaluable tool for tracking the many aspects of winter bird activity including:
- long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance
- 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
My first year in the program was 1992-93 season when I was living in a suburb just north of Boston. The yard had vegetable and flower gardens and a small back lawn. During the 14 years I lived at that site, I recorded 42 different species that at one time or another were present at my feeders. Then, I had just five feeders that included three seed feeders and two suet cake feeders. Among the most memorable sightings there was a Baltimore oriole in mid-November. At the time it was the latest record for that bird in Massachusetts. Then there were one-time records. For example, there were members of the finch family, the common redpoll and the pine siskin, often seen in the Upper Valley during the winter months but uncommon in suburban Boston. My sightings also recorded the arrival of species expanding their range into eastern Massachusetts. One example was the red-bellied woodpecker. In the late 1990s it began to move into the region. Since then, its range has continued to expand, and today it is seen throughout the Upper Valley. In 2005, I moved to Lyme, and FeederWatch moved with me. With the change of my location, the characteristics of the surroundings where I counted changed too. From a suburban setting I had moved to a rural one. There still were flower and vegetable gardens, but now there also were fields, woods with a mixture of pine, fir and deciduous trees and a small pond. Not surprisingly, my more northerly locale brought a different mix of birds to the feeders, ones you’d expect to find in the colder and more wooded North Country. There are many more members of the finch family including redpolls, pine siskins, crossbills and grosbeaks. Both cedar and bohemian waxwings are here. So is the common raven. A different mix of predators is more in evidence too. I’ve counted northern goshawk, red-tailed hawk, barred owl and northern shrike. FeederWatch counting is very satisfying personally on several levels. First, it brings a certain order to my day-to-day life, having a project to complete each week. As one of my sisters told me, “It is the shopkeeper (our great grandfather owned a market in New Bedford, MA) in your DNA.” I like things orderly keeping records, making lists. But secondly, I also am, in my limited way, making a contribution as a “citizen scientist” to a greater good. I spend $15 to register each year, spend a couple of hours, on two days, over a twenty-week period watching my feeders. Not only do I get the enjoyment from seeing all the bird activity, I am recording this property’s avian history, a snapshot of a particular place in time that may be of interest and use to a future bird lover.
To learn more about Project FeederWatch, visit: www.feederwatch.orgFeatured Photo: The home feeders in early spring/Blake Allison -- Lyme, NH