A Mourning Dove displaces a White-throated Sparrow at a pile of seed. Photo by Ella Klem.
FeederWatch Asks: Whose Feathers Get Ruffled?
Annual winter survey collects data about feeder birds
For Release: October 31, 2017
Ithaca, NY—For more than 30 years, people who feed wild birds have been reporting their observations to Project FeederWatch to track trends in bird populations. This helps scientists better understand what happens to birds facing challenges such as climate change, disease, and habitat loss. FeederWatchers can also contribute to new research on feeder-bird behavior. Now is the time to sign up for or renew participation in this long-running citizen-science project.
FeederWatch kicks off on November 11.
Participants make two-day counts from November through early April. They can spend as much or as little time as they like collecting data, so it is one of the easiest projects to try. Even counting birds once or twice all winter is a valuable contribution. But many people love the project so much, they count birds every weekend.
“Project FeederWatch gave me one of the best winters I’ve ever had! I learned so much, and I looked forward to every count day.”
–Beth Melonuk, Fort Laramie, WY
European Starlings are dominant to Red-headed Woodpeckers, Red-headed Woodpeckers are dominant to Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and red-bellied are dominant to starlings. Graphic by FeederWatch.
“In addition to reporting which species visit their feeders, people can now report bird behavior, too,” says project leader Emma Greig. “We want to learn more about the ‘dominance hierarchy,’ or who’s got the ‘upper wing’ when it comes to competition at the feeder. Who gets displaced by whom? Is bigger always better? Do birds fight more with their own kind or other species? There are so many questions to answer and this is the first time anyone has been able to ask those questions on a continental scale.”
So far, analyses of interactions for 136 species from FeederWatch sites for the last season have produced interesting results. In some cases, size matters, so that puts the mild-mannered Wild Turkey at the top since a chickadee is not likely to evict a turkey that’s found a feast. Starlings, Red-headed Woodpeckers, and Red-bellied Woodpeckers appear to follow a rare triangular form of dominance (see graphic), but more data are needed to confirm the pattern.
Project FeederWatch is a joint research and education project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada. To join tens of thousands of other FeederWatch participants, sign up online at FeederWatch.org or call the Cornell Lab toll-free at (866) 989-2473. In Canada, contact Bird Studies Canada at (888) 448-2473, toll free.In return for a participation fee of $18 in the U.S. ($15 for Cornell Lab members) and $35 in Canada, participants receive the FeederWatch Handbook and Instructions with tips on how to successfully attract birds to feeders, an identification poster of the most common feeder birds, and a calendar. Participants also receive Winter Bird Highlights, an annual summary of FeederWatch findings. Canadians receive membership in Bird Studies Canada.
Contact: Pat Leonard, firstname.lastname@example.org, (607) 254-2137
U.S. FeederWatch project leader Emma Greig is available for interviews. If you would like to speak to a FeederWatch participant in a specific town or zip code, please let us know.