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…”

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