Being home with the children has given me an opportunity to do something I did not realize was such an enjoyment: bird watching. It started with us putting up a small feeder in our front yard. Our daughter and I would enjoy watching the birds eat in the early afternoons. We soon put a second feeder in our backyard, conveniently located behind our dining room window so we easily watch our bird visitors throughout the day. Just recently, I started to read about Project Feederwatch, a Citizen Science program through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I had previously requested their Urban Birds data collection packet, but this was during the time of our relocation and getting ready for the baby and so unfortunately we did not find an opportunity this summer to do this. But I decided that since we get so much enjoyment from watching the birds who visit our yard, we could participate in Project Feederwatch this season, as this would be a great Nature Study to incorporate into our homeschool lessons.
The project is simple: people have their location that they feed and watch the birds on their property. The data collection season goes from November 12th through the end of April 2012. Participants should observe two sequential days every week or two, and have the option to report on the website (the preferred method) or sending in paper reports at the end of the season. Species at the count site are observed and counted over the two day period, and the highest number observed at one time is the number recorded for that species for that particular count period. Participation helps scientists observe bird winter migration patterns across the country and in Canada.
There is a small fee to participate ($15), and this provides a calendar, and some birding tips, bird identification posters, and information on feeding birds. We are novices at this, so the material has been quite helpful. The only species I could identify before we started was the plainly obvious Northern Cardinal, of which we see a couple of males and females. We also have a slew of small brown birds that I realized were house sparrows, which apparently are the bane of bird people nationwide because they are so prolific, and crowd out native species, like blue birds. They tend to crowd my feeder so I am exploring some ways to feed them away from the main feeder to keep the other species I get happy. We also get three (at least) Tufted Titmice and I have seen a single Goldfinch, a single Eastern Towhee (or at least that’s what I think it is) and a few White crowned Sparrows. We get a fair amount of Mourning Doves and the Grackles here are RIDICULOUS! And so noisy! I typically just grouped all the black birds I saw into one group until I really started watching them this past week. This is when I realized that while most of the black birds that we see are the Grackles, there are a couple of smaller black birds too – and they are not a solid black but rather a black body with a brownish-greenish head and chest. The best I can figure, these would be Brown-headed Cowbirds – so that’s what they are getting listed as. I will continue to tweak our feeder setup, hopefully draw away the House Sparrows to keep my other birds happy, and see if I can get some more unusual visitors. We plan on counting each week if possible, so I will have a counter on my main page throughout the months of November through April 2012.
Please check out Project Feederwatch and the other wonderful resources available from Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Our backyard setup. Hopper feeder with Songbird food mix – mostly black sunflower seeds with some other feed mixed it. A tube feeder with thistle – so far I’ve only seen one Goldfinch visitor. I also have two small dishes near the ground that I fill with water daily for the birds. With our drought they are most appreciative! This is a great location because it is under two Live Oaks, and next to my fence and my neighbor’s smaller trees. Also, the ground under the feeders has tall grass for shelter so they feel secure. We also have a small brushpile near my composter that the birds enjoy. In the drier weather they enjoy using the dirt in my planter boxes for their dust baths.
One of the mourning doves perching in my tree. We get several of these – both larger ones seen here, and smaller ones that are similar in size to the Cardinals.
A Northern Cardinal and House Sparrow in the smaller tree against my fence. There are four or five of these trees against my fence, and this is the main congregating area for the birds. They spend most of their time in my Live Oaks or these smaller trees.
Our property backs up to a Greenbelt so there can be no development behind us. All there is to see is Texas scrubland. We usually get cows grazing a couple days a week, and deer on occasion. We were lucky to see this deer mama and youngster feeding just behind our fence. While I was photographing, one of our resident Cardinals was on the fence for a photo op!