Thursday, October 22, 2009

Backyard Bird Feeding Aids Science

The summer green has faded to brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows, soon to be followed by the dull browns and cold grays of our late Adirondack autumn. Alas, the missing cheery sounds of the robin will leave us wanting, but soon new bird sounds will fill the woods, fields, and our own backyards. So dust off the feeder and set it up outside the kitchen window. The winter birds will be looking for your daily fillings of sunflower seed, Nyjer (thistle) seed, and fattening suet!

For millions of us, bird feeding has become an annual event that brings to mind the joys of winter when we see bright red cardinals, sky-blue blue jays and a whole host of other colorful winter finches. Birds and bird feeders adorn Christmas cards, note cards, and many holiday wrappings. This might give us all a sense of warmth and good cheer throughout the winter season but take a second to think about the birds and their daily lives in the sub-zero temperatures of the Adirondacks.

Bird feeding stations can be a good supplement to the various wild seeds, fruits, berries, insects, and nuts that birds will feed on in winter. Many of our year-round resident birds need to maintain a good layer of fat to keep them alive on those bitterly cold winter nights. And how soothing is it when you see playful chickadees, cardinals, and woodpeckers out your window on a snowy morning?

For many years now the Adirondack Park Visitor Interpretive Centers at Paul Smiths and Newcomb have put together wonderful bird feeding stations just outside their very spacious windows. This allows many visitors to come in, relax and watch the almost therapeutic coming and goings of the birds.

Well, now that you’re convinced on setting up your own bird feeding station you can aid in the world of bird study science . . . even while sitting there at your kitchen table drinking that second cup of (fair trade, shade grown!) coffee.

The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology(CLO) has been actively rounding up birdwatching citizens to participate in Project FeederWatch: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw/ This citizen-science project allows CLO to gather some much-needed data on where birds go in the winter and how many birds visit bird feeders, among many other questions.

CLO says, “Project FeederWatch begins on November 14 and runs through early April. Taking part is easy. Anyone can count the numbers and kinds of birds at their feeders and enter their information on the FeederWatch website. Participants submitted nearly 117,000 checklists last season. Since 1987, more than 40,000 people from the United States and Canada have taken part in the project.”

We all know that many bird species fly south for the winter but there are dozens of species that will stay and endure the harsh winters of the Northeastern U.S. Current data shows a gradual increasing trend in some species and decreases in others. Why? Well that’s what CLO wants to figure out, and with your input of weekly sightings, it may help reveal the answers they seek.

There is a small cost involved but the resource information you get back when you sign up is well worth the small fee. If you would like to see the Project FeederWatch in action, then visit the Paul Smiths Visitor Interpretive Center sometime this winter and see how the staff and volunteers conduct their counts.

It should be noted here that bird feeding in winter is a great resource for both birds and humans and should be encouraged. However, as we proceed into spring and summer it would be a good idea to take down those feeders during the warmer months (April to October). Black bears, raccoons, and rodents can destroy many feeders left out in summer. Besides, birds can find plenty of high-protein insects (which they prefer) during the Adirondack summer season.

Photo of Gray Jay by Milt Adams

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