Make your feeder watching count

It's not too late to get involved with Project FeederWatch. The start of a new year and the winter doldrums make this a good time to participate in this project.

What is Project FeederWatch? It’s a survey of the birds coming to your feeders. It runs from November through early April. Those involved periodically count the birds coming to their feeders. Anyone with an interest in birds can take part. This includes not only individuals but also classrooms, community groups, nature centers and bird clubs.

This undertaking is operated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, N.Y., and by Bird Studies Canada. Since 1987, more than 45,000 people have contributed their observations to the FeederWatch database.

There is a cost and this is what provides almost the entire budget for FeederWatch. The annual fee of $15 covers materials, staff support, web design, data analysis and a year-end report, “Winter Bird Highlights.”

You get your money’s worth. About two weeks after signing up, a research kit is mailed to you. It contains instructions, a bird identification poster, a wall calendar, a resource guide to bird feeding and a tally sheet. U.S. participants also receive a subscription to the Lab of Ornithology’s newsletter, BirdScope. The only things you must provide yourself are the feeders and the food needed to fill them. The birds will do the rest.

If you are wondering what you actually do, the answer is simple. First of all, decide where you will count. For example, when I have participated in the count, I count the birds feeding at the several feeders we watch from the kitchen windows. Even though there are feeders in other parts of the yard, I count only these. That makes it less likely that I would count the same birds twice. Once you are signed up for Project FeederWatch, you can learn about setting up your count site on Cornell’s Web site. FeederWatch also includes written instructions in your mailed packet. Choose a time of day to count. Select two consecutive days once every two weeks and count during all or part of those days. I usually count at the same time, and it may be from 8- 10 a.m., or at another convenient time.

The tally sheets you send to Cornell become part of a database that tracks bird population trends throughout North America. Bird populations rise and fall and sometimes there are specific reasons for this. Weather plays a part but so do food and water sources, nesting conditions and changes in habitat. When it comes to tracking bird populations and the various factors that affect them, Cornell is the No. 1 authority. They are a treasure chest of information for anyone interested in birds.

Like any successful undertaking, Project FeederWatch has grown in size and in quality. Most of this involves the Web. It is more fun and more educational. The feeling that you are contributing valuable information to the knowledge of our birds makes this an exciting project.

You can sign up online at www. feederwatch.org or by mail at Project FeederWatch, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 159 Sapsucker Woods Road, Ithaca, NY 14850. The last day to sign up is Feb. 28. On March 1, sign-ups for the following season begin. This is a fun winter activity for individuals or families.

Write to Joan Carson, PO Box 217, Poulsbo, WA 98370. Include a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply.