Project FeederWatch Info, Tips, and Nature Journaling Ideas

The gang’s all here. House Sparrows in my garden eating Nyjer seed.

I have participated in Project FeederWatch and love helping the conservation and winter survival of the birds I adore. Here is a how-to-do-it article with tips from my experience.

I started with Project FeederWatch in 2011-2012. I skipped some years when there was so many stray cats that feeding the birds in my backyard just created an easy hunting grounds for cats. The mysterious eye disease of the past summer is subsided. And I’m back to feeding winter birds. I’m ready to jump back in to Project FeederWatch.

Over the years, I’ve spotted Mourning Doves, Carolina/Black-capped Chickadees, Dark-eyed Juncos. Northern Cardinals, House Finches, and House Sparrows at my winter feeders. More than 100 species winter in North America.

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A squirrel eating suet from a basket in my backyard.Photo by Donna L. Long.

What is Project FeederWatch?

Project FeederWatch is a citizen science program run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Birds Canada.  The program measures the abundance and distribution of winter North American birds. It is an early warning mechanism to spot when a species is in decline or trouble. Participants also record any sign of disease or other problems. The project data helps us take action before its’ too late to save a species.

This winter count gives us a picture of North American birds without the tropical migrants that arrive from other lands in the warm weather breeding seasons.

The numbers from Project FeederWatch have been used in numerous scientific studies. By participating in this project, we are doing citizen science. It provides weekly updates about bird population and location that would take thousands of scientists and research assistants to accomplish. We are those thousands of research assistants. 

Project FeederWatch runs from November through April. The website is https://feederwatch.org/

A male Cardinal and Mourning Dove eating from a platform feeder.
A male Cardinal and Mourning Dove eating from a platform feeder in my backyard during Project FeederWatch.

Who Can Participant?

U.S. residents can participant in Project FeederWatch. Canadian residents though Birds Canada. Both countries residents can find links to sign up at https://feederwatch.org/.

What You Get for Your Project FeederWatch Fees?

It costs $18 a year to support and take part in the project for U.S. residents. U.S. residents who are Cornell Lab members pay $15 a year. Canadian residents can participant by donating any amount to Birds Canada. You can chose to join the project, renew you participation or donate to support the project.

According to the website, the program which is partially funded by the fees from the participants. The money goes toward materials, staff support, web design, data analysis, and the year-end report.

You will also receive:

  • tools to track the birds on the website or mobile app
  • the year-end summary, Winter Bird Highlights
  • digital access to Living Bird magazine
  • poster of eastern and western common feeder birds
  • Bird-Watching Days calendar
Bird feeding in my backyard during winter.
Bird feeding in my backyard during winter.

What You Have to Do to Participate?

1. Observe birds at plantings, habitat, water or a feeder.

2. Count birds.

3. Enter you data online or use the smartphone app.

I choose two consecutive days to count, I choose Saturday and Sunday. I look out my window periodically during those days and count the birds. I record the highest number seen at one time of each species. This number I will enter online.

Male Hairy Woodpecker eating from upside down suet feeder in my backyard.
Male Hairy Woodpecker eating from upside down suet feeder in my backyard.

What Will Participating Project FeederWatch Cost? 

The program website says you don’t even need a feeder. Just an area with plantings, habitat, water or food that attract birds.

A dish of water or bird waterer is good to have. Water is free and the birds appreciate the ease of getting drinking water. If you can’t afford to buy birdseed, providing water is the least expensive way to attract birds to your backyard.

My neighbor’s yard has a dense yew shrub that the house Sparrows use for shelter after the breeding season is over. Starlings gather before roosting in a tall Tulip Poplar in another neighbor’s yard. Another neighbor has a Bradford Pear tree whose tiny fruits remain into the winter. It attracts birds as long as the fruits lasts.

If you decide to feed bird seeds, you’ll need bird feeders and feed. I buy my bird seed from my local Environmental Center (Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education) here in Philadelphia. I get a discount as a center member. Plant nurseries, garden center, and big box home centers often carry bird seed.

On the program website you can download the manual and tally sheet. The tallies can be entered into your naturalist’s journal to keep records for your own knowledge and enjoyment. .

Beyond a pencil to keep notes and access to a computer or smartphone app, that is it.

Mourning Dove drinking form a water dish in my backyard.
Mourning Dove drinking form a water dish in my backyard.

Feeder Supplies Needed for Project FeederWatch

Here’s my recommendations for bird feeders. Right now I have three feeders hanging in my backyard.

1. A Squirrel Buster feeder for sunflower kernels. Squirrels are too heavy to use the feeder. A Squirrel Buster on Amazon.com (affiliate link). I have the Squirrel Buster Plus which currently have exorbitant prices on Amazon.com (January 2022). The Squirrel Buster I link to is smaller than mine but has a lower price. 

2. A suet feeder that birds must hang upside down to access. A selection of suet feeders on Amazon.com (affiliate link). 

3. A Perky Pet Waterer that I keep filled with clean water. When the temperatures are freezing I put out the waterer with warm water that stays warm for awhile. The Perky Pet Waterer on Amazon.com (affiliate link). 

For my own sanity sometimes I put out corn and peanuts in a hanging tray for the squirrels. I located the tray across the yard from the bird feeders. The squirrels usually go for it and the birds can feast in peace.

Mourning Doves perched on a branch over my backyard.
Mourning Doves perched on a branch over my backyard.

What Bird Seed to Use?

Sunflower seeds are the bird seed that is the most popular with the birds that visit my feeders. I put up suet cakes for the Nuthatches, Chickadees, Jays, and Woodpeckers. I add a Perky Pet Waterer and I’m done.

If I want to attract ground feeding birds such as Doves then I put corn in ground trays. I generally don’t put feed on the ground. I don’t want to attract rodents or other pests.

I stop buying other seed types because the birds finished off the sunflower kernels and left everything else. I buy the kernels (shells removed) because I got tired of cleaning up the shells the birds dropped on the ground.

I will sometimes put out Nyjer (Thistle) and millet to cut down the use of expensive sunflower kernels. If the other seeds are all that is available someone will eat it.

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A male Cardinal and a sparrow eat at my feeders in winter.

Project FeederWatch Website Has Helpful Information

Data and reports are available

  1. Bird Summaries by State
  2. Trend Graphs
  3. Participant Map
  4. Top 25 Birds -the winter birds to learn

Other Helpful on the Project FeederWatch Website

  • Common Feeder Birds
  • Tricky Bird IDs
  • Birdspotter Photo Contest
  • FeederWatch Cam
  • Project FeederWatch Participant Photos
  • Project Blog
  • Sick Birds and Bird Diseases

Project FeederWatch and Your Nature Journal

All that data you record for Project FeederWatch can also be entered in your nature journal. The data you collect consists of a whole bunch of numbers. But you can fill out the information with your observations, such as:

  • Who eats first?
  • Is there a ‘pecking’ order? I see this among the House Sparrows.
  • When do you see the largest number of birds?
  • Who arrives late? The Cardinals (male) arrives in the late afternoon.
  • Who eats what? Who drinks the water?
  • What is the species of trees or shrubs that birds use to roost?
  • Take photographs of the activity.
  • Make sound records of the chatter of the birds. Learn their calls.
  • Use the Grinnell Scientific Nature Journal system

 

Conclusion

I hope this information is useful. Winter often we are in indoors when we would prefer to be outdoors. And with the pandemic meaning we stay home, we need a distraction. Project FeederWatch can be that distraction. Any comments? Use the comment box below.

Project FeederWatch runs from November through April. The website is https://feederwatch.org/

Male Cardinal at my tray feeder with a peanut in his mouth
Male Cardinal at my tray feeder with a peanut in his mouth

My Previous FeederWatch Posts

Colorful Evening Visitors: Project Feederwatch Report

Hairy Woodpecker Fights Back: Project FeederWatch Update

More Winter Birding Posts

Winter Birding: How to Master It (with video)

Winter Birding Migrations and Irruptions (with videos)

Winter Birding Feeding Guide: Attract Birds to Your Backyard (with video)

Winter Feeder Birds: Identifying Woodpeckers

Winter Feeder Birds: Identifying Blue Birds

Winter Nature Photography Tips

Starlings Murmurations: How to Find One and When to Watch (with Video)

Citizen Science and Nature Journal Keeping 

2 comments

  1. Those squirrels certainly are clever and persistent. After my own failed attempts at keep squirrels from emptying my feeder, an employee at Wildbird Unlimited recommended safflower seed. Squirrels dislike the taste. I’ll sometimes set up a special feeder for the squirrels with peanuts or corn. I’ve also had trouble with grackles devouring my suet cakes that contain corn, and scaring off more timid birds. I’ve found grackles don’t care for pure beef suet. This setup has its drawbacks, but it works for me—maybe it might work for someone else too. Thanks for sharing your love and knowledge of the outdoors.

    • Hi Rachel – what good tips. I’m sure another reader can benefit from your experience.

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