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Project FeederWatch with David Bonter

The Martha Stewart Show, October 2007

Project FeederWatch is a fun way for people to learn more about the birds in their yards -- and to share what they're seeing with scientists. Anyone can participate by simply counting birds at feeders and sending the tallies to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology or Bird Studies Canada.

Since the project began 20 years ago, thousands of people from across the United States and Canada have contributed more than 1.5 million checklists of the birds seen at their feeders. In doing so, they've helped keep track of more than 70 bird species. That's a huge amount of information -- more than any team of scientists could ever hope to collect on their own. And the good news is that reports from feeder watchers show that some bird species are actually moving into new areas, expanding their ranges.

Project FeederWatch Discoveries
Red-Bellied Woodpecker
The red-bellied woodpecker is a great example. Historically, this bird was rarely found north of Pennsylvania. Feeder watchers, however, have documented a dramatic range expansion during the past 20 years -- they have reported red-bellied woodpeckers at their feeders in New York, New England, and even into Quebec and the maritime provinces of Canada.

This is a gorgeous woodpecker with striking red, white, and black coloration -- although the red belly is often difficult to see. These birds adapt well to life around people, visiting feeders for suet and peanuts.

Eurasian Collared-Dove
This is an example of a bird that was completely absent from North America just 30 years ago. Thanks to feeder watchers, the spread of this species across America has been documented. If you do not already have Eurasian collared-doves in your area, it looks as though you could be seeing them at your bird feeders within a decade or so.

In the late 1970s, this bird, native to Asia, was released by a pet dealer in the Bahamas. Over time, populations of the doves grew rapidly and the species spread from the Bahamas throughout Florida. In the past six years, feeder watchers have recorded this species expanding its range at an incredible rate. Eurasian collared-doves have moved northwest out of Florida and colonized areas as far away as British Columbia. Few, if any, other species have colonized a continent as quickly as the Eurasian collared-dove. It will be interesting to see if populations of doves native to the United States, such as the mourning dove, will be affected by this new invader.

Evening Grosbeak
The evening grosbeak story is a real mystery. As recently as the early 1990s, this striking black, yellow, and white finch was among the most common birds seen at feeders across the northern tier of the United States and throughout Canada. People used to report large flocks of grosbeaks descending on feeders, consuming the seeds so quickly that it became difficult to keep the feeders stocked. In the past few years, however, the species has essentially disappeared from backyards in the eastern United States, and its numbers have dropped throughout the core of their range in the West. The cause of the declining numbers is unknown; however, thanks to feeder watchers, it has become evident that evening grosbeaks need conservation attention. The problem has been identified, and new research and conservation efforts need to be formulated.

Resources
Visit feederwatch.org for more information on Project FeederWatch. Or call the headquarters at 877-741-3077, or the Canadian headquarters at 888-448-2473.

Special Thanks
Special thanks to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for providing a free membership to Project FeederWatch and to Wild Birds Unlimited for providing a set of binoculars, bird feeders, and a field guide to the studio audience.

Comments (2)

  • 18 Jul, 2011

    Does anyone remember a bird species book? It may have been on this episode. I am just wondering what the name of it was. ~Alicia

  • 14 May, 2008

    I love bird watching