Twenty Years in Cornell’s Project FeederWatch: A perfect fit for back yard birders
Excerpts of an article that appeared in the May 2008 issue of Nature Society News
by Jim Russell, long-time FeederWatch participant
More than 20 years ago I saw their ad in a bird publication. Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada were about to launch an enormous study of birds, their identification, numbers and movements, where they were and what they ate; how they were affected by weather–all that and more–and they needed my help and that of others. A daunting note was about the scope of their project; it would cover the entire North American continent. Wow!
Questions loomed. How could data I furnish from my tiny “spread” in Texas be of any help in something of such magnitude? Could it make a difference? My interest in birds has been lifelong; I was already a birder, and I write a monthly column about birds, but I was never involved in anything like this. I later learned that we would be among several thousand, continent-wide, submitting data; and among a couple hundred within our state.
A participant needed only a couple of feeders and some seed. This was in 1987, so let’s fast forward. Here we are, 20 years later, and in retrospect our experience has been totally positive. I said “our.” My wife Priscilla, a native New Yorker by the way, has been a constant partner as we gathered and contributed our data. Requirements have been basic. Our participation has been a joy.
We learned a few months ago that we were among 119 participants who have been submitting data since day one, so again, we had reason to be proud, both that our persistence had been acknowledged and to learn just a few of us had “stayed the course.”
Some might think that in counting birds and recording such data, we station ourselves, armed with binoculars and note pads, and stare, transfixed, at our terrain in a steady, interminable watch. In fact we report data at convenient times, recording actual time watched and the higher number of each species that we recorded on our designated days.
Assisting in a study like this offers the back yard birder an opportunity to “bird watch” in a casual, yet structured way. Structured does not mean regimented. Counts, and all that go with them, are done at the convenience of the participant, so there is no pressure.
We have lived here for 26 years, and among the birds we’ve welcomed to our feeders are Indigo Buntings. While they may have been here all the time, we saw them a couple of years ago at our feeders for the first time. Cousins of theirs, the Painted Buntings, have been sighted about four miles to the south of us, so some day soon we expect to see them at our feeders.
The single, most exciting, birds to become regulars in our yard are the White-winged Doves. Before my retirement, I was privileged to work both in northern Mexico and in six border counties in Texas. During those times I marveled at the White-winged Doves, along neighborhood streets, along roadways, and of course, in the wild, and I was envious of those who were about to enjoy these beautiful birds in those habitats. Gradually they have advanced northward, far beyond our location, and today their numbers in our back yard equal and often exceed those of our Mourning Doves.
It was our wish to share with you these notes as participants in Cornell’s Project FeederWatch. The Lab of Ornithology’s nurturing of the project has been constant, and such expertise has made the experience fun and worthwhile. We plan to continue.
Excerpts published with permission from Nature Society News 2008.