Monday, November 17, 2008

It's FeederWatch Time!

One of my favorite wintertime activities is feeding the birds. I feed year 'round, but the birds use the feeders more and are more visible in the winter, which makes it even more enjoyable. In a way, feeding birds takes the place of growing flowers during this quiet season of the year.

Many years ago I joined Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology's FeederWatch program. It's a coordinated "citizen science" data collection project, keeping track of trends in the birds that come to people's feeders all across the country.

To help make it manageable but relatively consistent from site to site, FeederWatch traditionally has had each feeder watcher observe and record bird activity carefully for 2 consecutive days during each 2 week period during the winter months, beginning in November. Now, with online data reporting, you can do 2 consecutive days each week, if you so desire.

So that's what I'm aiming for this winter. Last week was my first count period. As usual, by watching closely, I noticed birds that I hadn't seen this winter coming into my count area. Last week it was a yellow-rumped warbler, a spotted towhee, and a female red-bellied woodpecker. Today, the first of my 2 day count period for this week, I "netted" a pair of Carolina wrens and a mockingbird. Plus I noticed a small flock of cedar waxwings just beyond the courtyard hedge that is my official count boundary.

I've seen all these birds before in our yard, but this is the first time I've noticed them at or around the feeders this fall.

Because of the online data reporting, I received feedback last week that I'm seeing unusually large numbers of white-crowned sparrows for this early in the season. That's rather fun to know. And because of more carefully monitoring the feeding birds, I noticed 2 abnormalities in the immature white-crowned sparrows last week: one with a wound on its side, and one missing its tail. I saw the wounded one again today, looking like the wound had healed quite a bit, but I haven't seen the tailless one since last Tuesday.

Most of all, the FeederWatch is just another tool to help keep me observing the wildlife in our yard, especially when it's all too easy to cocoon inside and simply try to keep warm. And it does a darn good job of that.

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