"I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven."
Emily Dickinson

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Backyard birders needed to collect data for Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Project FeederWatch

Lesser goldfinches and American goldfinches were among the top 10 feeder birds recorded in California during last year’s Project FeederWatch. Photo by J.J. Meyer
This column ran in the Orange County Register on Nov. 12,  2011

Thousands of backyard birders from across the United States and Canada will begin collecting data today for Project FeederWatch, a joint research and education project of Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada.
The idea is genius: This giant band of birders identify the birds, tally the numbers at their feeders, record other needed criteria such as the weather and signs of illness in the birds and send it to a database for scientists to analyze.
From the information collected ornithologists can get a picture of winter bird abundance and distribution and track important trends such as a decline of a common species, the spread of an invasive species and the spread of new diseases.  The data also helps researchers to investigate the impact of diseases such as House Finch disease and West Nile virus.
“It’s an excuse for birders to do something they enjoy doing anyway,” said Cornell’s project leader David Bonter.  “And you don’t have to be a scientist because we provide the materials to help you identify and tally the results.”
Last year 415 birders from California joined the project.  And this year Bonter is hoping for more participants.
            “California is such a diverse state with an incredible range of habitats,” he said.  And the data from urban areas is as valuable as that collected in pristine woodlands.
            Orange County’s 13 species of naturalized parrots and other invasive populations such as nutmeg mannikins, also known as scaly-breasted munia, or spice finches, are of particular interest to the study, he said.  Nutmeg mannikins are small chestnut brown finches with a dark head, thick bill and scaly patterned chest. Flocks of these birds, which are native to southern Asia, have become established in Orange County in recent years.
Gathering data is simple.  Define your count site.  You can have multiple feeders, but be sure you’re able to see them all from one location.  Provide food, water and cover for the birds in your yard.  Pick two consecutive days in advance.  Don’t decide to count on a particular day because you see an array of interesting birds, because it can skew the data.  Use the tally sheet provided in the kit and enter it online or write it out and mail.
It costs $15 to join. Participants receive instructions on data collection, a handbook on attracting birds, a bird identification poster, the lab’s Birdscope newsletter and an annual summary of the study’s findings.  Signups will be taken until Feb. 29 at feederwatch.org. Data collection ends April 6.

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