Thursday, November 5, 2009

Project Feeder Watch Prep

There's still time to sign up for Project Feederwatch.  It begins on November 14 and runs til April 9. On two consecutive days that you select each week, you set aside as much time as you can to count birds at your feeders, tally your observations and enter your data on the Cornell Ornithology Lab website- meaning you (and your kids) can be part of a real ongoing scientific study. The data collected helps the scientists figure out population counts and determine which species are being affected by various environmental factors.  (Do you think a poodle is considered an environmental factor?) 

It costs $15 to sign up -- this is our first year participating.

Even if you don't participate in Feederwatch, this is still a good time to hang out your feeders and see who comes to visit.  It's fall migration time, and you may be surprised at who's passing through.  (Birds flying over your property, however, are not eligible to be counted for this project!)

Feeders - You might want to hang a couple of different kinds of feeders in your yard.  Tube feeders, like this one hanging right outside our front picture window, exclude squirrels and some larger birds.  Juncos, titmice and sparrows love these.

This is a house or "hopper" feeder -  it's popular with the blue jays and cardinals, but it does tend to leave a mess on the ground underneath.  Nothing goes to waste, though.

Feed - different kinds of seeds attract different birds.  For example:
Black-oil sunflower – cardinals, chickadees, finches, sparrows and woodpeckers.
Striped sunflower – larger billed birds
Nyjer (thistle) goldfinch, pine siskin, common redpoll
Safflower – cardinals and big-billed birds
Corn – wild turkeys, ducks, doves, quail and sparrow
Millet – juncos and sparrows
Milo – a reddish grain that's not a favorite of eastern birds. Avoid mixes with a large percentage of this grain
Suet - suet is a bird feed made from rendered animal fats (like calves and sheep).  Fresh suet is a real treat for birds and may even attract some larger species, like hawks, as well as woodpeckers.

A big bag of  mixed seeds should last through the winter.  I'm putting the bag in a bin in the garage  and cutting a large opening in the top.  I stick the feeders in the bag to fill them - this is the best way to prevent seed spillage.  Be sure to close the bag tightly after filling so that the seed stays fresh and you don't attract rodents or wayward basketballs.  (A word of advice: don't try to take a shortcut and walk through the house to the backyard with your full feeders, because it will spill. Take the longer path around the house!)

Water -  Always put out water for your birds.  The water in a pretty ceramic dish now, but when it starts to freeze, I'll switch to something metal, like this old roasting pan. When I notice the water is frozen over, I just bring it inside and replace it with another dish.  There are also things you can buy at Gardners Supply Company to keep your water from freezing.  Water containers should be cleaned and sanitized once a week.

Cover - Birds like grassy areas edged with trees and shrubs.  A brush pile (or fort!) can also provide protection.  Evergreens, especially the kind with cones or berries, are favorite spots for overwintering birds.

You can dowload these color posters and hang them next to your window to help you identify the different types of birds.

Most common around here seem to be titmouse, chickadee, nuthatch, dove, blue jay and cardinal.  Keep a pair of binoculars near your window so they're handy when you need to see close-up.

There are lots more tips and info available on the Project Feederwatch Website.

Kids are usually expert bird counters. What birds are visiting you these days?


Ronda Laveen said...

This is such a great project. Thanks. Yes, a poodle looking for food is an enviromental factor.

Anonymous said...

A good reminder. I will put the feeders on my list of things to do this weekend.

I guess I must buy smaller bags of seed than you do (what I can lift is my limit) - mine do not last the winter.


Lorilee said...

What a fun project to participate in! I live in South Texas along the migration route of many birds! I love to watch for different birds in my yard. Some weekends I hardly get my chores done because I get distracted by the birds!

Joanne said...

I've been noticing more blue jays around recently. Other than that, the usual chickadees, sparrows, mourning doves. Your pup there looks very eager to start monitoring the feeder situation!

tina said...

Good tips on the birds. I don't think I am familiar with Project Feeder Watch, be sure to let us know how it goes. I am not sure I would be able to keep up with it all. I have my feeders ready to go and actually received a camera that has a time interval on it. I watched 357 shots over a two day period of birds at the feeder. It was a lot!! Mostly finches, a nuthatch, cardinals, chickadees and titmouses. I am debating whether I'll post a movie of the pics. If I do it will probably be next year. Anyhow, bring on the sunflower seeds....

Gail said...

What a fantastic post! Chock full of great info...I can't wait to pass this along to my baby sister! Thanks for reminding me to mix up the feeder types...I tend to get in a rut! gail

our friend Ben said...

Project FeederWatch is fantastic, Jen! (As is the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's website, where you can read all about tons of birds and monitor Project FeederWatch online.) They've done at least two books as a result of the backyard findings---I have (and love) "Birds at Your Feeder: A Guide to Feeding Habits, Behavior, Distribution, and Abundance" by Erica H. Dunn and Diana L. Tessaglia-Hymes. Great post!!! But here I thought Miss B. was trying to help you with your species count...

JGH said...

Rhonda, the dog is scaring away some birds even though she's on the other side of the picture window! May have to do some stealth birdwatching so as not to attract her attention.

W, last year I went thru 2 or 3 small bags, but I wasn't doing feederwatch, so I may have to correct my seed usage projections...we'll see!

Lorilee - I'd be interested to know what birds are most common in your area. It must be great to live right near a common migration route.

Joanne - you've named the ones that are most common around here, too. The Jays come and go but the little guys are constant.

Tina, you have to post that video! I would love to see it. I saw on some website (Garden Rant maybe) a video taken by a camera attached to a hummingbird feeder on someone's head. It looked like the bird was poking his face!

Gail, I know what you mean about being in a rut. I know I should invest in some more expensive, better feeders.

Ben - thanks for letting me know about that book! I need a good field guide for birds.

sam said...

Thanks for posting this - I think we'll sign up! It will be a good motivator to get multiple feeders up instead of just the easiest one ;)

- Susan M.

MLL said...

Thanks for the tip...we signed up!


Talon said...

Fun project. I don't hang feeders with having the cats, but I get immense enjoyment out of a neighbor's feeders. Our backyard is the highway to the feeder and I can't go a day without checking out the action. Sparrows, starlings, blue jays, cardinals, finches, crows,'s an endless and fabulous bird show.

Stacey said...

I'm so jealous. I have lots of city birds in my yard and they are fun to watch but I can't really feed them due to the rats. I do have bird baths and really wish I could have feeders too.

Guinnah said...

What a great idea. We have so many birds in our yard (even with dogs). Today driving home I saw our local group of turkeys crossing the road (apparently it's a "rafter" of turkeys..didn't know that). Anyway, I worry so much about them getting hit by a car :-(

tut-tut said...

Good tips. How do you keep the squirrels away, esp. from the suet?

The thistle bag can be just an amazing thing, bristling with finches on a cold day. We always have at least one.

btw, I understand you were meditating and vibrating with a squirrel recently . . . sorry we didn't really get much of a chance to talk this summer. next time!

JGH said...

Marcia & Sam - I hope you'll post about your feederwatch project, too. We can compare results!

Talon, it's nice that you have neighbors with lots of bird action :-)

Stacey, curious about the city birds - which ones are they (other than pigeons. )?

Guinnah - we've been seeing more and more turkeys around here too. I didn't know they were "rafters" either. Thanks for the new vocabulary word.

Tut- I haven't tried the suet yet - anxious to see what it attracts. Miss B. has been pretty good about keeping the squirrel population down here, though. She's never caught one, but is very good at chasing them.
Oh my - "vibrating with a squirrel". That could be misinterpreted ;-)

Charlie Paolino said...

Hi Jennifer..It's Charlie Paolino..(HMG) thanks for that great info..I missed the date by 1 day to sign up for the project. We have an unbelievable amount of birds here too. I have a cardinal that lives in the bamboo and flies into the windows almost daily..poor guy..Anyway, there are truly a great amount of different bird species in Rockland and it is nice to see people who appreciate them!