Thursday, October 29, 2009

Project Feeder Watch!

Project FeederWatch (article & pic by Nancy Lloyd)

Late January 2009: It was not one of my FeederWatch days, but I was sitting by the kitchen window, sipping coffee, checking my email, and glancing now and then at the feeder outside. A small bird landed on the shepherd’s hook. My brain immediately said “pine siskin,” but another part, the what’s-wrong-with-this-picture portion asked, “red poll?” I made a dive for my binoculars and, sure enough, it was a female common red poll. On January 29th, I reported 4 red polls, and on March 5th, I counted 30. This past winter had an “irruption” of red polls, which means the red poll is a bird not regularly seen in this area, or, at least, not in large numbers. They don’t migrate, like warblers. Weather conditions and a shortage of food can push these birds out of their summer range. I have participated in Project FeederWatch (PFW) for 6 out of the 10 years I have lived in my current home and I have watched my feeders year round for the entire time. This was my first sighting of red polls at my home. Pine siskins are another irruptive species. According to my data, I’ve seen them every other year prior to 2007. For the past 2 years, they’ve been regular visitors at my feeders and last year in record numbers.

It’s easy to participate in PFW. The season starts in early November and ends in early April. You can sign up by mail or online at There is a $15 fee. They will send you a packet to get started. Basically, you pick 2 consecutive days, say, Wednesday and Thursday. Each week on those days, you watch your feeders and record each species and the maximum number of that species present during the 2-day period. For example, you see 3 chickadees all at once at the feeder at 10:00 Wednesday morning, and 5 chickadees on the feeder and in the tree at 2:00 the following afternoon. You would report a total of 5 chickadees for that week. You will also record the amount of time you spent watching your feeders (you set the time for as little or as much as you want) and what the weather conditions were for those 2 days. Once your data is entered, you can access previous weeks, months or years, and see what other regions are reporting. More importantly, scientists use the data to track trends in winter bird populations for information on songbirds, habitat, and climate effects. The PFW website also has tips on bird feeding and identification. Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s online bird guide ( is very informative and easy to use.

This year, PFW will start on November 14th and ends on April 2, 2010. Participate and your data could help scientists make the case for preserving important habitat for songbirds. Plus, when someone asks you when you might see a pine siskin, you can answer, “Well, last year, I started seeing them on November 27th…”

110th Christmas Bird Count

The 110th Christmas Bird Count (picture & article by Nancy Lloyd)

Since December 25,1900, the Christmas Bird Count has been a tradition that has gone from sparing birds from wanton slaughter to helping birds by tracking population trends. The Christmas Day “side hunt” was a tradition of going out with friends and shooting as many birds as you could. The fledgling Audubon Society and well-known ornithologist Frank Chapman managed to transform this tradition into counting, rather than shooting, the birds. The data compiled on modern Christmas Bird Counts aid scientists by recording the winter bird population trends, which can indicate shifts in climate, effects of pollution, decline in critical habitats, etc.

Nowadays, the CBC is held on a day chosen between December 14th and January 5th. The count area is determined by selecting a predetermined 15-mile diameter circle and assigning a Compiler to that circle. Anyone can participate. You can go out with a team or stay at home and watch your feeders, as long as your home is within the circle. If you are a beginning birder, you’ll be in a group with more experienced birders that can help identify the birds you see. Spotting the birds is often the hardest part. You never know what you’re going to get yourself into. Last year’s count was a perfect example. The previous night, it had been raining, but by 4:30 am, the temperature had dropped to barely above zero. The day turned out to be sunny, but windy and bitter cold. Birds don’t like those conditions any more than we do, so the birding was tough. We still got out to a lot of the sheltered areas and found pockets of birds. We even had trouble finding some of the common species. It’s a pathetic birding day when you rejoice because you finally flushed a small flock of pigeons in a Jewel parking lot. But, hey, it added another species to the tally. Other years, we’ve had to deal with deep snow or pouring rain. Or the weather could be perfect: sunny, mild temperatures, light winds.

The count day for the Barrington area this year is December 14th. The compiler for the Barrington Area is Duane Heaton. He organizes the count teams, collects their results and sends the report to National Audubon. Depending on how many people volunteer, there may be a lot of area to cover. Deer Grove Forest Preserve, Paul Douglas Forest Preserve, Margreth Riemer Reservoir, Hamilton Park and Harper College are typically included in the count. The more teams there are, the more area can be covered. There is a $5 fee to cover the administrative costs. To participate or to report the counts at your feeders, contact Duane Heaton. You can also find out about other compilers in your area and when their counts take place by going to the Audubon website (

Duane Heaton: (847) 358-5856 or email: