You know you would rather watch birds than watch the news about the economy, so why not also do use that relaxing time to contribute to research! Just watch your bird feeders once a week for as little as 15 minutes (or longer if you so choose) and contribute to science.
The 2008-09 season of Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Project FeederWatch gets underway November 8 and runs through April 3. You can count the numbers and kinds of birds at their feeders each week and send the information to the Cornell Lab of the Big O. Last season, participants submitted more than 115,000 checklists, documenting unusual bird sightings, winter movements, and shifting ranges- a treasure-trove of information that scientists use to monitor the health of the birds and of the environment.
Scientists learn something new from the data each year, too, whether it’s about the movements of common backyard birds or unusual sightings of rarely-seen species.
Highlights of the most recent season include the largest southward movement of red-breasted nuthatches in the history of the project -part of an expected influx of northern birds that fly farther south when their food supplies run short.
Other northern species showing up in record numbers included common repolls and pine siskins (like the little dudes above that were at Mr. Neil's last winter). Long-term data show some species increasing in number, such as the lesser goldfinch in the Southwest. Other populations continue a downward trend, such as the Evening Grosbeak throughout their range. Once one of the most common species seen at feeders in the northern half of the continent, the grosbeaks are declining for unknown reasons.
Beyond the benefits to birds and science, however, is the benefit to participants. “Nature is not merely an amenity; it is critical to healthy human development and functioning,” says Nancy Wells, Cornell University assistant professor of design and environmental analysis. Her studies find that a view of nature through the window or access to the environment in any way improves a child’s cognitive functioning and reduces the negative effects of stress on the child’s psychological well-being. Wells also notes that when children spent time with nature early in life it carries over to their adult attitudes and behavior toward the environment.
Project FeederWatch welcomes participants of all ages and skill levels, from scout troops and retirees to classrooms and nature center visitors. You can do this--chances are if your read this blog, you watch birds at your feeder anyway, this is just a way of taking it to the next level. If you do not have feeders at your home (get a copy of City Birds/Country Birds and that'll help) or go to your local nature center or refuge, find out if they have feeders, if they plan on participating and offer to volunteer or them.
To learn more and to sign up, visit Project FeederWatch or call the Lab toll-free at (800) 843-2473.