All Counts are Important
While some FeederWatchers see amazing birds, a wide variety of species, or large numbers of birds, most FeederWatchers see low numbers of what might be characterized as “predictable” birds. These counts are the heart of FeederWatch. Focusing on the extreme cases would provide a biased view of bird populations, and ignoring the common birds could be a major mistake. While we are all thrilled by unusual sightings and high counts, it’s the everyday observations of common birds that are so important for monitoring bird populations.
Britain’s regret about NOT counting House Sparrows
In the winter 2004 issue of BirdScope, researchers from The British Trust for Ornithology* shared what they are learning about House Sparrow declines in Britain. They concluded their article with a lesson that is worth repeating:
“In Britain we are worried about our House Sparrows. We know that in North America they are introduced pests, but we could do with some of yours! We think our story has some important lessons for programs that monitor wildlife. In the 1960s and early 1970s, we thought that sparrows were just a nuisance–
they were so numerous and difficult to count that we asked our volunteers not to count them on our Common Birds Census between 1962 and 1974. What fools we were! We lost valuable information at a stage when they were doing well, leaving a big gap in our knowledge. The lesson is surely that we need to monitor all our wildlife, particularly the common species.
It is these common and widespread species that are perhaps the best barometers of the health of our own environment, as we, too, are a very common and widespread species.”
FeederWatch participants often believe that the Lab is not interested in gathering data about the same old birds, especially when the birds are “just” doves or sparrows or starlings. The Lab needs counts of all birds–as well as reports of no birds–to be able to monitor population trends over time. Please send in your counts, no matter how small or ordinary.
*Humphrey Q. P. Crick, head of the demography unit at the British Trust for Ornithology, and Mike P. Toms, organizer of Garden BirdWatch, the United Kingdom’s version of Project FeederWatch.