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Five Ways to Welcome Migratory Birds Back to Your Yard

Yellow WarblerBirds all across the USA are now returning from their wintering grounds and will soon be visiting feeders and raising new families.  Many migratory birds are threatened by loss of both summer and winter habitats, and by problems they encounter on route.  Anything we can do to help migratory birds will also benefit resident species, and of course will enable us to more easily observe and enjoy them.  Please consider the following suggestions.

Native Vegetation and Dead Trees

Allow a portion of your yard to “remain wild” by encouraging native scrub, bushes and grasses.  If you also have a garden and/or lawn, adding native plants will create an “edge effect” – a zone where different habits meet.  Such areas, whether they be forest/field or lawn/scrub, always attract far more species than either habitat individually. Read More »

Volunteer Bird Surveys – Results, Trends and Surprises

Northern FlickerVolunteer participants in Project Feederwatch, the Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count and similar efforts have been providing ornithologists with much-needed data for decades.  It’s simple to get involved, and there’s still time to help out in this winter’s programs (please see article below).  Today I’d like to summarize some results from both this winter and last.

Project Feederwatch

Overseen by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and several Canadian organizations, Project Feederwatch attracted 15,699 participants last winter (2009-2010).  Altogether, 112,590 lists, documenting a staggering 5,855,881 individual birds, were submitted.

California and the Southwest

Pine Siskins, Pine Grosbeaks and Redpolls, which often move as winter arrives, were quite scarce; this was likely due to the availability of food in Canada.

Leading all species in the region’s counts were House Finches, Dark-Eyed Juncos, Mourning Doves, Western Scrub Jays and White-Crowned Sparrows.  Steller’s Jays and Cooper’s and Sharp-Shinned Hawks (both of which visit feeders in search of prey) were less in evidence than usual.

Lesser Goldfinches, Ruby-Crowned Kinglets and introduced Eurasian Collared Doves were seen in near-record numbers, while populations of Golden-Crowned Sparrows, Pine Siskins and Purple Finches seem to have declined.

The Northeast

Chickadees, Mourning Doves, Dark-Eyed Juncos, Downy Woodpeckers and Blue Jays maintained their traditional “top 5” status, but all were seen in less-than-expected numbers.

Brown-Headed Cowbirds and Purple Finches were not abundant, and Redpolls were nearly absent.  On a positive note, Northern Flickers, Chipping Sparrows, and Eastern Bluebirds seem to be on the increase.  The introduced Eurasian Collared Dove continues to expand its range.

Please see the report below for summaries of counts held in other parts of the USA and Canada.

New York State

Cyanocitta stelleriI hope you’ll pardon my emphasis on my home state… While NYC may not seem ideal bird-counting territory, the grounds of the Bronx Zoo, Central Park and other hotspots have yielded over 250 species each.  Having haunted such places since childhood, I’ve seen a good many, including such notables as Long-Eared Owls and Bald Eagles.

The frigid environs of Albany would seem as forbidding to birds as does the Bronx, but here again there were many surprises.  The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation’s New Year’s Day Count revealed range expansions for Tufted Titmice and Northern Cardinals, both of which were absent from the region 50 years ago.  Red-backed Woodpeckers and Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers, first observed in 1989 and 2008, respectively, seem to be there to stay.

Volunteer bird-watchers amass reams of data that could not be gathered b any other means…and all of it is used by ornithologists to track the health of native bird populations. 


Further Reading

Project Feederwatch Results

How Birders can Contribute to Conservation

Video: Cooper’s Hawk on patrol at bird feeder

Steller’s Jay image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Jerry Keenan

The 111th Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count – an Update

Last winter I wrote about the Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count (CBC), which is the world’s longest running volunteer wildlife survey.  Now in its 111th year, this winter’s effort promises to be both enjoyable and of vital importance to birds throughout the Western Hemisphere.  Today I’d like to highlight last year’s amazing successes, and once again remind all how easy it is to participate.

A Record-Breaking Bird Count

Last year’s CBC ran from December 14, 2009 to January 5, 2010, and surpassed all previous ones on every level.  The turnout was incredible… 60,753 people counted nearly 56 million individual birds representing an astounding 2,319 species.  The species count shattered the previous year’s record by 200 species.

Observations were made in all 50 states, all Canadian provinces, Guam, Bermuda, Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the Mariana and Virgin Islands.  Spearheaded by birders in Columbia, several Latin American countries joined in as well. Read More »

Birding Trips – Combining Bird-Watching and “Regular” Vacation Activities

White-tailed EaglePassionate birders are a breed apart – I know folks who think nothing of flying from NYC to Argentina at a moment’s notice in the hope of spotting a non-descript sandpiper that happened to show up unexpectedly.  Some such people, however, sometimes (rarely!) manage to talk non-birders into becoming their significant others, in which case such excesses might be frowned upon.  Then there are those who enjoy bird-watching, but would like to also swim, ski or visit museums on their vacations.  Fortunately, there are options that can accommodate all levels of bird-watching enthusiasm.

Birding Plus…

The Sierra Club, the USA’s oldest grassroots conservation organization, sponsors a number of Volunteer Vacations – trips that include birding and conservation-oriented activities while leaving time for other pursuits as well. Read More »

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