Project FeederWatch Season Summary

by Anna Morris

Lead Environmental Educator

Common Feeder Birds (Project FeederWatch)

Another season of the citizen science program, Project FeederWatch is behind us, and it was a very big winter! Now in its 32nd year, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s winter bird-watching project aims to connect people with the wildlife in their backyards, and with the world of scientific research.

This is the 3rd year that VINS participated in the project, and this season we decided to count birds at 3 different sites each week. One site was visible out of our classroom window, in the roundabout overlooking the Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation. Another was right behind the Crawl Space, which was itself turned into an entire exhibit about Project FeederWatch. The third was just outside a window in the Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation, so even our busy rehabilitators could join in on the count!

A total of 48 two-day counts were submitted to Cornell (16 per site), containing observations of a whopping 30 different species. This is the most we have ever counted in one winter with this project, and we heard reports from other bird-watchers in the state of the diversity they were observing. Highlights at the VINS feeders included both Sharp-shinned AND Cooper’s Hawks, a Pileated Woodpecker, a Hermit Thrush, a Carolina Wren, a Field Sparrow, and a pair of Mallards. (And yeah, yeah, a Barred Owl; they seem to have been EVERYWHERE this winter).

Though many of us were missing the usual flocks of Dark-eyed Juncos at our feeders this year, over half of FeederWatch sites in Vermont did report the little gray birds consistently throughout the winter, with an average group size of just over 3. Still, this is quite low compared to last year, in which more than 80% of sites consistently reported Juncos, with an average group size of nearly 7.

American Crows were more frequently seen as the winter progressed, showing up at 44% of FeederWatch sites in Vermont during the last week of March. A similar trend was seen in Barred Owls, who had a rough time dealing with the thick ice layer covering the snow, which prevented many from hunting their usual mice and voles in their subnivean tunnels.  Evening Grosbeaks were seen across Vermont early in the winter (November & December), but gave way to Common Redpolls and Pine Grosbeaks later (February & March). And though a Carolina Wren stuck around the VINS feeders all winter long, only about 10% of Feederwatch sites in Vermont ever reported one as a visitor.

Field Sparrow, Spizella pusilla (Flickr)

By far, our most unusual visitor was the Field Sparrow. This scrubland-dwelling bird is normally only seen in Vermont during the summer breeding months, but one showed up to our feeders in early December, and again in mid-February. Though Field Sparrows are common, their populations have been experiencing a steep decline over the last 50 years.

Many thanks to everyone who contributed observations, and a super-huge thank you to Citizen Science volunteers Aine and Ian, who made nearly all of the Crawl Space observations. They watched the feeders with extreme dedication every weekend for 2 hours, and counted 13 species.

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