Project FeederWatch returns in full swing


It’s time for another season of Project FeederWatch, Cornell University’s premier citizen science opportunity sponsored by the Lab of Ornithology.

New FeederWatch project director Emma Grieg says anyone can participate.

“Our materials teach what participants need to know. And volunteers don’t need to identify every species they see. Even counts of cardinals and chickadees provide useful data,” she said.

Thanks to last year’s results, I can confidently predict what species you are likely to see. Assuming you have suitable habitat with at least a few trees and shrubs for cover, you can expect 15 to 20 species over the course of the winter.

Most commonly seen

Based on data submitted from 5,941 northeastern sites last year, here are the most commonly seen species. Each was reported from more than half of the FeederWatch sites: Chickadees (black-capped or Carolina, depending on your location), dark-eyed juncos, downy woodpeckers, mourning doves, northern cardinals, blue jays, white-breasted nuthatches, American goldfinches, house finches, red-bellied woodpeckers, tufted titmice, European starlings, hairy woodpeckers, red-breasted nuthatches, house sparrows, American robins, American crows and common grackles.

Last year was a banner year for nuthatches and woodpeckers. Red-breasted nuthatches arrived early and stayed all winter in many areas. Red-breasts visited the greatest number of feeding stations in FeederWatch history (64 percent, versus the previous record of 58 percent in 2007-08).

White-breasted nuthatches, a non-migratory species, visited 88 percent of FeederWatch sites Several other species moved higher on the list of percentage of sites visited. Northern cardinals (90 percent), tufted titmice (68 percent), and Carolina wrens (47 percent) appeared at more feeders than ever.

Exceptional year

And for the first time, red-bellied woodpeckers moved into the top 10, visiting 69 percent of FeederWatch sites. One of the virtues of FeederWatch is its ability to detect long term trends.

The abundance of woodpeckers last year seems associated with a new abundant food source. Emerald ash borers, a non-native beetles devastating midwestern forests from Michigan to New York, provide a near unlimiyed food source for downy, hair, and red-bellied woodpeckers and white-breasted nuthatches.

Furthermore, the trees killed by the woodborers provide snags in which woodpeckers and other cavity nesters can nest. So it seems the invasion of an exotic pest may actually benefit some birds.

Monitoring visits

Another FeederWatch project launched last year involved tracking the behavior of individual birds. Attaching tiny transmitters to wild chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches, scientists were able to monitor their visits to feeders.

More than 470,000 visits to specially “wired” feeders were recorded revealing a wealth of information about how birds use feeders. It turns out that during very cold weather, and despite the risk of predation, birds forage constantly all day long.

Food is a powerful motivator. Launched in 1987, Project FeederWatch compiles information gathered by volunteers from all across North America.

Last year 127,210 checklists were submitted by 20,569 participants who reported a total of 7.3 million individual birds. FeederWatch volunteers devote just a few minutes every week or two to identify and tally the birds that visit their feeders.

Anyone can participate

No special knowledge is required because the material provided to volunteers include posters that facilitate bird identification.

The best time to see the most birds at feeders is on cold, snowy mornings. To become a FeederWatch volunteer, visit, or call 800-843 2473 during normal business hours, or send a check to Project FeederWatch, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, P.O. Box 11, Ithaca, NY 14851-0011.

The $15 fee ($12 for Lab of Ornithology members) covers all materials, data analysis, and publication of each year’s results.

If Project FeederWatch sounds great, but you live in an upper floor apartment or for some reason cannot set up bird feeders, I have great news. Thanks to an Internet-based feeder cam, you can watch live video from a feeder cam in northern Ontario.

It features a variety of northern species, including evening grosbeaks and an occasional ruffed grouse, that we seldom see this far south.

I try to check in every day to get a taste of the far north. Visit and enjoy.

(Send questions and comments to Dr. Scott Shalaway, RD 5, Cameron, WV 26033 or via e-mail at his website,


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Scott Shalaway, who holds a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology from Michigan State University, writes from his home in rural West Virginia. A former faculty member at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma Biological Station, he has been writing a weekly nature column for newspapers and freelancing for magazines since 1986. He can be heard on Birds & Nature from 3-4 p.m. Sunday afternoons on 620 KHB Radio, Pittsburgh, or live online anywhere at, or on the Tune-In radio app. Visit his website at or contact him directly at or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.



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