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When I fill my feeders during a snowstorm or when the temperatures drop below -20, I’m always happy to see my chickadees already there, waiting for me. They creep in for seeds still at room temperature and suet not yet frozen before I get away from the feeders.
It’s nice to know that my birds recognize me and appreciate my offerings. Feeding the birds gives us a double pleasure: the joy of seeing so many birds up close and personal, and the gratification of knowing that we are truly helping them.
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The first rule of feeding birds is to not harm them. Fortunately, many bird conservation organizations and Bird watching provide a wealth of information on the best (and worst) food choices and the safest ways to offer food to backyard birds. If you want to do something even more helpful, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Birds Canada have a simple and fun program that can take your bird feeding to the next level.
The FeederWatch project began as the Ontario Bird Feeder Survey, launched by the Long Point Bird Observatory in 1976. After 10 years of success with over 500 participants, organizers realized that only a continental survey could accurately monitor large-scale bird movements. , and they’ve expanded the survey to cover all of North America via a partnership with the Cornell Lab.
During the winter of 1987-88, more than 4,000 people signed up, representing most provinces in Canada and every state in the continental United States. Since then, the number of participants in this cooperative research project has grown to more than 20,000.
Decades of results
What have we learned from the wealth of FeederWatch data? Documentation of dwindling numbers of overwintering Painted Sparrows since the 1980s led the former Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission to take action to protect this beautiful species. FeederWatch has tracked the range expansion of Eurasian Collared Doves, Anna’s Hummingbirds and Northern Cardinals, as well as the continent-wide decline of the Evening Grosbeak.
Notably, FeederWatchers were among the first to notice conjunctivitis in house finches (“House Finch Eye Disease”). FeederWatch tracked the spread of disease and provided participants with information to reduce the risk of disease spread by feeders. FeederWatch data has also been used to monitor the effects of West Nile virus on birds.
The 2022-2023 FeederWatch season runs from November 1 to April 30. Participants should choose a part of their yard that is easy to monitor, usually an area with a feeder that can be seen from one location. If you participate, you are asked to count the birds at your feeder on two consecutive days, no more than once a week. New participants will be able to connect online and create their counting site on November 1st.
Participants receive the FeederWatch Manualwhich offers tips on how to attract and identify common bird feeders, and Highlights of Birds in Winteran annual summary of FeederWatch results, paid for with a small participation fee.
For more information or to join, visit www.feederwatch.org.
This article from Laura Erickson’s “Attracting Birds” column originally appeared in the November/December 2018 issue of BirdWatching. Subscribe
Article updated with dates 2022-23.
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