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When Birdwatching Helps Scientists
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Citizen-scientists are about to start a winter-long survey of backyard birds. Anyone with a birdfeeder can participate in the project, which is sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The information gathered by ordinary citizens is helping scientists track bird populations.

Project Feeder Watch first started 22 years ago. Every year about 15 thousand people from across the U.S and Canada gather information on the birds at their bird feeders. Ornithologist David Bonter of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology says the project has helped scientists collect data on how things have changed over time.

For instance, he says a large yellow finch, known as the Evening grosbeak was one of the most common birds at birdfeeders in the northeast in the 1970s and 1980s. Now they’re hard to find. Bonter also says some birds that are common here now used to live further south.

“Birds like Carolina wrens, Tufted titmice, Northern cardinals. Red bellied woodpeckers are another good example. These are species that are moving their range to the north and they’ve done so quite rapidly over the last several decades.”

Bonter says climate change is one of the leading hypotheses behind the northern movement of birds. He says birdfeeders themselves may also be a cause because the food helps some species survive in the northern limits of their range.