One Pine Siskin Is A Surprise. A Hundred Thousand Is A Revelation
At Project FeederWatch, everyday sightings combine for rare insights.
In the winter of 2008-2009, the United States was flooded with Pine Siskins, small, streaky finches with a lemon-yellow flash in the wings. The birds left boreal Canada and spread across the continent from the Pacific Northwest to the Gulf Coast. Siskins by the millions blanketed the country, and hundreds of thousands were counted at feeders. Some even nested as early as February, and members of the Cornell Lab’s Project FeederWatch saw young siskins as early as March.
This immense movement of siskins—the biggest in decades—might have passed unnoticed, if not for the efforts of thousands of citizen scientists—people just like you, armed with binoculars, a bird feeder or two, and a desire to help.
Conservation science isn’t confined to lecture halls; it lives outdoors, in the field and forest. Without the help of thousands of bird watchers, scientists simply couldn’t see patterns that stretch across a continent. Here in Ithaca, New York, our scientists noticed more siskins in their own backyards. But to realize—as we found last year—that Pine Siskins had reached three times as many locations across America, and at nearly double the numbers, as in the last 20 years on average? That requires your help.
Project FeederWatch is a leading example of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s efforts in citizen science. Since the program began in 1987, FeederWatchers have submitted more than 1.6 million checklists from 45,000 locations across North America. Their data have helped track the spread of diseases such as West Nile virus and House Finch eye disease, document the rapid colonization of Eurasian Collared-Doves in North America, and charted an alarming, continentwide decline in Evening Grosbeaks.
If you enjoy the birds at your feeders, Project FeederWatch is a perfect way for you to help. FeederWatch participants report the birds they see in their backyard as often as every week from November to April. We’ll give you resources to help with tricky identifications, so you can participate even if you’re fairly new to bird watching. Back at the Cornell Lab, your checklists become part of a vast dataset that simply couldn’t be assembled any other way.
Project FeederWatch is just one way to turn your hobby into help for the environment. There’s a citizen-science project for any season, any observer, any level of effort, including once-a-year Great Backyard Bird Count, summertime NestWatch, and eBird for round-the-clock reports. You can also help by becoming a member of the Lab. Won’t you join us?
Photo Courtesy Of: michaelasagatova:
An uncommon visitor to my garden this winter, the Pine Siskin arrived with a small flock of redpolls.