Thumbnail image Ronan Nicholson | Macaulay Library

[Charles Eldermire] OK. Should start coming up here any moment. Well, hello, everyone. We’re going live here just a minute or so early because of all the things you can never figure out when you’re connecting bits of the internet across the world.

My name is Charles Eldermire. I’m here today with Rebecca– jeez, I’m sorry, Becca. I always want to say this because of your last name. Becca Rodomsky-Bish and Léa Bouffaut. And we’re all from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

We’re about to hop into some bird watching. And I want to welcome everybody to the audience today. You’re going to learn who we are. You’re going to learn about some birds. We’re going to watch them together real time. You’re going to learn about some opportunities to actually contribute to science in the future by watching birds.

And really, we hope you learned that there’s a big community of people out there that like watching birds. And over the next 45 minutes, we’re going to become, hopefully, part of your community, and you’re going to become part of ours.

So with that, I’m going to hand things over for a moment to Becca and Leah to introduce themselves while I get our screen share set up so you guys can watch birds. How about you go first, Becca? Tell them a little bit about yourself.

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Sure. Thanks, Charles. Hi, everybody. My name is Becca Rodomsky-Bish. I’m the Project Leader for the Great Backyard Bird Count here at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. We’ll be talking a little bit about the GBBC, which is what it’s called in short terms. And it’s an event for people like yourselves, perhaps, that really enjoy watching birds, whether it be at the cams or in your own backyards or communities. So thanks for having me here today, Charles. I’m looking forward to our watching. And how about you, Lea?

[Léa Bouffaut] Hi. So I’m Leah Bouffaut. I’m a postdoctoral associate at the K. Lisa Yang Center for Conservation Bioacoustics, which is part of the Lab of Ornithology. There, my– what I’m studying and researching is underwater bioacoustics, mostly about whales. And I come here with a fresh set of mind and a new pair of eyes to learn about birds and ask a lot of questions.

[Charles Eldermire] That’s a great setup, Lea, because I don’t know that people realize this, but– so you– right– let me back up. Right now, what you’re seeing on your screens, hopefully, on the YouTube event, is a view of beautiful, warm Sapsucker Woods here in Ithaca, New York, where the three of us currently physically are, just in different parts of it. And you’re looking out across the Treman Bird Feeding Garden onto Sapsucker Woods Pond with a series of birds visiting the feeders.

And if anybody out there in the chat wants to throw in who you think’s on those feeders right now, we currently have one species of bird scattered on the tray and on the tube feeders over there. And they’re wearing their dull winter colors. They’re blending into that winter landscape. But in another month, that’s just going to break up into something spectacular. Any ideas from you, Lea?

[Léa Bouffaut] I would just say that when it goes toward to summer, they get yellower. So I would say a goldfinch.

[Charles Eldermire] That’s right. Yeah. So these are all American goldfinches. And one of the things you can look for, even though they are that a little bit dull, kind of greenish yellow color, their wings stay black. And you can see that there’s a couple of pretty bright lines on those dark wings. And that’s always a good reminder when you see them fly up and you’re like, what is this kind of drabber bird?

And I see a bunch of people in chat right now shouting out goldfinch. Well done. And somebody– a couple of people might have said warblers, I think I saw. These are on the right size range for warblers. So that’s not an out-of-the-world guess. But hopefully, we’ll get a good look about why these aren’t warblers, even just from their behavior. So Becca, what would you say these birds are doing here at the feeders?

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Eating?

[Charles Eldermire] And what are they eating? [LAUGHS]

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Oh, what are they eating? They’re eating seeds. And these particular birds are unique in that they can eat quite a few different sizes of seeds. But a lot of times, they prefer the smaller nyjer seeds, which I don’t think is what’s in that tube. I think, what are those, shelled sunflower seeds?

[Charles Eldermire] Yep. Those are a mix of shelled seeds. And while you were– while you were chatting a little bit about that behavioral tidbit, we had a, first, a tufted titmouse come in, which was the bird that had a little bit of– a little bit more of a tuft on top of his head, but still gray.

Right there, center screen for me right now. You can see a little wash of reddish on its sides and a big, big dark eye, which is a good example of just how it sticks out.

And then a chickadee flipped in, had a strong black-and-white difference on its face. Now, who do we have climbing down here? Any guesses from our crew here behind the scenes?

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] I think it’s– is it a downy woodpecker?

[Charles Eldermire] That’s right. And then Lea, do you see any color on that bird beside black and white?

[Léa Bouffaut] I don’t think so. I don’t see any red on the head.

[Charles Eldermire] Yeah. And so if it had– if it had red on the head, what would that make it?

[Léa Bouffaut] So I think the red is for the males. And I guess if it doesn’t have any red, it’s a female?

[Charles Eldermire] That’s correct. So depending on the time of year, it may also be a young bird. The coloration cannot quite be there. And I see a couple of people in the chat talking about hairies. And this is where we have a lot of clues in this scene to tell us whether it’s a downy or a hairy.

And identifying these birds is one of the bigger challenges that are out there for a backyard birder in the Northeast. Ooh, another black-and-white bird just came in and out pretty quick. Anybody have a guess as to what that was? I don’t know if Becca or Lea, either of you saw that one flit in and out.

[Léa Bouffaut] I did. It had a very long head. And I think– isn’t that a nuthatch?

[Charles Eldermire] Yeah. Very good. So– oh, and there’s our titmouse back. So we’re going to get into why that’s a downy. Just really quickly, if you look at that bill, look the bill on its head. You don’t have to see it very well even over the screen share to notice that bill is not super long, right? It’s kind of on the shorter side of things. And if it were a hairy, that bill would seem almost the size of its head.

I have a funny story, actually, about how I learned this. An old grizzled bird guide told me, if you were to take that woodpecker and whack them on your hands so this bill went inside his head before it popped back out. You’re not hurting him. Just he’s trying to get a point across.

In a downy, that bill would just disappear inside the head. With a hairy, the bill is so big, you’re kind of like, it might actually come out the back if you did that. And so what you’re really getting at is the size of the bill compared to the size of the head. And with that downy, the size of that bill is pretty small. Oh, there’s that nuthatch again.

So we’ve already seen now, I don’t know, probably somewhere between a dozen and 15 birds. And one of the things we’re here to talk about a little bit is how not only can you watch birds with friends, with your community, but you can actually count birds. And there’s something cool coming up that Becca actually heads up. So you want to tell them a little bit about Great Backyard Bird Count, Becca?

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Absolutely. So the Great Backyard Bird Count happens every year. It’s four days where all of us who love these birds get together. And we share these four days where we identify and count as many birds as we can find.

It happens over four days, but you only have to participate at least once. And we ask that you count for at least 15 minutes, more is awesome. If you want to count multiple times in those four days, please do. But our website is And if you are having fun today, and this is a pleasurable experience for you, I guarantee, you’ll want to be there with us during the weekend, which is February 17 through the 20, so next weekend.

[Charles Eldermire] That’s great. Oh, and you can see there’s a goldfinch that just came down and landed on the back side of the tube feeder there. And you can already see, that bird shows a little bit more yellowish. It’s not that really sunny corn yellow kind of.

And we’re getting a bunch of cool questions about GBBC, about the Great Backyard Bird Count. And just in case people have joined a little late, you’re actually sitting here with the person running the Great Backyard Bird Count, which is Becca. I’m the Project Leader for Bird Cams. And we have Lea Bouffaut, who will pop up on screen, because for some reason, Zoom only shows one of us at a time when we share a screen. But you’ll see her. And she works at our Yang Center for Conservation Bioacoustics.

So Becca, two questions that have already come up in the chat. Can we participate from outside the US? And do we have to have a feeder?

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Great questions. No, you do not need to have a feeder. I’ll answer that one first. You can report and enter birds from wherever you are seeing them. Schools do this. Libraries do this. Community centers do this. Anywhere birds are, we want to hear about them.

And then yes, you can do this from anywhere in the world. GBBC is a global project started just in the United States, expanded to Canada, but now we do it everywhere. And last year, we had 192 countries contribute, which was fantastic.

[Charles Eldermire] And was one of those countries France, by chance?

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Indeed.

[Charles Eldermire] Because we actually have someone with a French background here with us. Did you watch birds in France, Lea? Would you ever sit around and watch birds like this? Do you have feeders there?

[Léa Bouffaut] I don’t– well, I guess people do. But we don’t. But I do watch birds in my mom’s garden. When it’s dawn chorus, you have many birds that have come around and that are vocalizing around. So we just go out and walk around the yard and just listen to them. So it’s pretty funny, actually, the tit that we’re seeing right now.

[Charles Eldermire] Yeah, the chickadee.

[Léa Bouffaut] You don’t have– in France, they’re mostly blue, blue and yellow. And so to me, this one is pretty new. [LAUGHS]

[Charles Eldermire] That’s right. So that’s actually a great point that chickadee, which, for a long time, was grouped in the same genus as all of the chickadee-like birds in Europe, which are called tits there. So you have great tit, you have blue tit, there’s long-tailed tits, there’s willow tits. There’s a whole bunch of them. And you were talking about having blue tits where you are in France.

So when I was maybe in grad school or just after I– just before I was in grad school, so late ’90s, they split chickadees off into their own genus, Poecile, and left the New World and the Old World tits, basically, never the twain shall meet again. You know?

And so even that, you, as a non-birding person, you’re learning these birds. And I think like lots of the people here in the audience, they may not have watched birds that much, or maybe they don’t get the opportunity to. But even with a little bit of observation, you were able to basically tie together two birds that are thousands of miles, two species that are thousands of miles away, because they act the same, they’re like the same size, they do the same stuff. And that’s pretty cool.

Let’s see. I’m just popping in the chat here. Oh, this is one– it’s not quite about birds or the GBBC. “How is the bird man, Benjamin Walters doing? We miss seeing him every morning.”

So Ben is still working on the Bird Cams. He’s actually one of the people entering answers in the chat right now. And he’s doing great. I’ll let him put in a note, if he wants, in the chat. We miss him being physically on the feeder, but he’s still quite hard at work. [CHUCKLES] So no worries there.

Now, Becca, there are a few questions here that I think relate a lot to the nuts and bolts of Great Backyard Bird Count. And since we’re not seeing that many birds right now on the feeders, I wonder if you could share just a couple of details about how people enter data. And then maybe make sure they understand where they can learn even a lot more about this. And there are some links that have been posted in chat, but would you mind touching base on that?

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Sure. And please stop me if we get an exciting arrival at our feeders. I want to make sure–

[Charles Eldermire] I’m glad to.

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] So the GBBC is an event, and you can enter your data in a couple of different places. There’s two mobile apps, one is called Merlin Bird ID, which– oh, I hear some callers.

[Charles Eldermire] Yeah, chickadee back there. Yep.

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] That’s a good lead in. Merlin, you can identify birds not just by visually seeing them but by sound. So that sound, you could record in Merlin, and it would identify the bird for you, and you could submit that as your contribution to the GBBC. There’s that chickadee.

So you can submit birds via Merlin, which is either a sight, a sight, sound, or you can get a photo identification on Merlin. And that’s a free– 100% free mobile app.

There’s also a mobile app for eBird. And eBird is where you can actually that counts the bird. So Merlin is just a sighting tool. You’ll ID it and tell us you saw that bird. You won’t give us a number. If you want to tell us the number of birds you see, eBird Mobile might be a really good option for you.

And then last but not least, for those that aren’t using phones, there’s an online tool. So any of those three places. And this is all on our How to Participate page on our website,, that will tell you how to actually enter your sighting for GBBC.

[Charles Eldermire] Awesome. Thank you for that, Becca. There’s a couple of questions here that get to– and I’ve seen some people talk about this already. And Lea, I don’t know if in France, does it get as cold as it has been here in Ithaca?

[Léa Bouffaut] Not where I’m from in France. We’re– I’m from the Northwest from the coast. And it gets rainy and mild, but that’s it. [LAUGHS]

[Charles Eldermire] OK. And so I think one thing that I’ve been seeing a few people react to, and I also think about this a lot, so it’s a fun thing to bring up, is how these birds deal with the cold. And so probably, your blue tits back in France don’t have to deal with the same temperature swings that our chickadees do here. But someone did ask about whether or not these birds clump up in groups for the night. And in the case of– or in cavities.

In the case of the goldfinches and chickadees that you brought up, chickadees do go into cavities, but typically, just one per cavity. And the colder the night, the smaller the cavity they’ll try and find so they can really just wedge themselves in there, puff up like a big puffy balloon, and just warm all that air, so there isn’t much air being exchanged.

Goldfinches don’t roost in cavities, though. So they’re just finding a sheltered place and dealing with these cold temperatures without even having to resort to finding shelter. There are some species that do huddle together in groups. There’s pygmy nuthatches can do that or will do that. Bluebirds are known to, especially Western bluebirds.

So that is one way birds do try and get around the cold. But you also have to understand, these birds are just incredibly evolved to deal with these conditions. And they carry a lot of fat, and they eat high, high-energy food.

Let’s see. So Lea, is there anything that surprised you about when you did get a chance to start seeing birds more after coming to the lab? Because you don’t study birds. I don’t think– I don’t know that people got that in your intro. And there are people that have come in since then. But you’re part of this group as not a bird expert, right? You can–

[Léa Bouffaut] Yes.

[Charles Eldermire] –tell us again what you’re an expert in, but then tell us a little bit about how you, as a non-expert relate to birds.

[Léa Bouffaut] So I’m doing marine bioacoustics, where I focus mostly on large baleen whales. And well, within the lab for anthology, we’re interested in biodiversity, in general. So they’re part of biodiversity just as well.

But what’s surprising to me, especially coming into Ithaca and having Sapsucker Woods around, is the diversity and number of birds that are around, that, to me, was pretty striking. I don’t think I’ve seen so many birds before.

And I know it brings a lot of question. Like, for example, right now, I’m wondering, how was– how are birds finding foods? I have some answers for whales, but I have no clue how birds are doing that.

[Charles Eldermire] Yeah, that’s a great point. So with the bird feeders, that’s obviously a hub for them to find food. But I don’t know if people in the chat, if there’s places where you notice birds foraging, you can share where you think birds are particularly good at finding food.

This time of year is a tough time of year, right? It’s thought that the whole phenomenon of migration, in part, is there to deal with these seasonal changes. So most of the species that are insectivorous, for example, they hightail it out of here.

But what most people don’t know is even for a bird like a chickadee, midwinter, still over 50% to 75% of what they eat are insects. They’re just really good at finding them.

And if you think back to the way that their bill is shaped, the chickadees have tiny, almost tweezer-like bills. And every little nook and cranny that could be probed where an overwintering insect might be hanging out, that’s a part of their daily routine.

Yeah, we have some people talking about seeing them gathering on the dried-out stems and eating seeds from those stems, foraging under leaves for insects. We have a question about whether or not we’ll see any of the other Bird Cam feeders.

Oh, there’s a bigger woodpecker that just came in. You can hear him. It’s like, [HIGH VOICE] chew, chew! Now, this woodpecker, if you look at his bill, look at his head, what do you think we have here, Lea?

[Léa Bouffaut] It is longer. I know it’s not pileated because they’re much bigger and have like a– the head shape is a little different and they have some kind of a neck, I would say. But so– this one, I actually don’t know.

[Charles Eldermire] Yeah. So we’re getting a bunch of people from the chat jumping in to say hairy woodpecker. And that’s right. So this is the big version of the downy woodpecker.

Another fun thing you can look for when you have really nice imagery like this, look at the outer tail feathers of the woodpecker. If you can see them, I mean, kudos, because you have to be pretty close, but they’ll be clean and white for a hairy woodpecker. And a downy woodpecker will have some black hatch marks on them.

Now, these birds, again, similar to what I was saying about the chickadees, they will obviously eat this suet ’til the cows come home. But they don’t just hang out there. They fly on. And they’re still looking for other kinds of food, lots of insects, still, that they’re finding inside trees, primarily. And that’s why they’re pecking.

But as someone mentioned, they’ll actually fly out, especially the downys, into goldenrod fields, and peck at insect galls, like the big brown balls, and get the larvae out of them as well. So they’re very adaptable. Let’s see here. We have some other comments coming in.

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Can I plug that a little, Charles?

[Charles Eldermire] Please do. Yes.

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] So habitat is one of my big things that I do a lot of promoting at the lab. And that’s one of the reasons that Charles just articulated that I really encourage people to leave their flowers, that– don’t deadhead your flowers. Don’t cut those stocks off down to the ground. Leave them.

I have so much food on my land right now, tons of goldenrod galls, lots of little seeds still at the top of all of my flowers. So we can actually have a big impact on birds by leaving a lot of those resources available to them so they can forage naturally all winter long.

[Charles Eldermire] And there’s something to be said for just, quote, unquote, “being lazy–”

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] [LAUGHS]

[Charles Eldermire] –when it comes to yard work. It’s always more fun to do yard work in the spring anyway, right? So I think this came up the other day. And since it’s, I think, a French word, Lea, we talked about caching, I think, at one point, when we were meeting about this early. Do you remember what we meant by that?

[Léa Bouffaut] Yes. I think, wasn’t it when some of the birds are coming to take larger seeds– or maybe not larger, some of the seeds and then go and hide them for later? Is this correct?

[Charles Eldermire] Yeah, that’s exactly right. And we saw– I bring it up because there’s a couple of people mentioning in the chat about birds that cache seeds. And you can see that tube full of peanuts there on the right. That is something that, quite often, goes very fast in the morning. The blue jays will take them one by one and take them away and hide them.

And anybody who does have a bird feeder or has access to bird feeders, even if you came to the Lab of Ornithology and you just watched these bird feeders from outside, it’s actually really fun to see if you can figure out where they’re going with that seed. Because it tells you a lot about the mind of the animal, where they think is a good place to hide something, right?

Have you ever watched something like this, Becca, where you’re watching the birds hide stuff? Any fun stories related to that?

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] I have come across several caches on my land in the spring when I go to cut things, clean things up for the season. A little pile of sunflower–

[Charles Eldermire] Chickadee there.

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] –seeds. Oh yeah, look at the chickadee. Many of them probably hidden by the chickadee. So yeah, I found them. Oh, there’s another view of the downy.

[Charles Eldermire] That one’s a downy there. You can see the little black dots, almost, on its outer white tail feathers there. And a nuthatch.

And one of the beautiful things about a nuthatch, when he bends over like that– so that’s a male nuthatch. You can tell by how dark the black is next to the white, and the pale gray of the nape. When they bend over like that, you get to see that all along their vent and where their legs seem to come out of the massive feathers is this beautiful reddish brown rufus color, like nothing else.

Chickadee dropping in, big white face patches. Another chickadee coming in. So one cool thing, those white– oh, look at him, right up front. Those white– oh, and he just got displaced by a nuthatch.

So look at this. Birds are coming. We don’t know where they went, but they’re back, right? Now, watch this nuthatch. It’s already gone five times. It’s looked at the seeds, picked up another one. Eh, dropped it.

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Particular. Yeah. [CHUCKLES]

[Charles Eldermire] So what I like to do is imagine that you’re a bird. Just like when you go to the grocery store and you want to pick out a piece of fruit, in a very real way, these birds are doing that. They can sense the difference in micrograms, even, sometimes, between one little chunk of seed and another. And yeah, those are all black-capped chickadees that we have here in Ithaca.

So the cool thing is a lot of these birds in the winter that visit our feeders are shades of gray and black, often with big white patches. And those white patches, actually, sometimes, have information that we can’t even see where it reflects in the ultraviolet. And birds can actually see ultraviolet. So those chickadees, those big white patches actually encode information that they use to talk to each other, which reminds me a little bit about sound, Lea, how there are sounds that we can hear and sounds that we can’t–

[Léa Bouffaut] Yeah. [CHUCKLES]

[Charles Eldermire] –that animals make use of.

[Léa Bouffaut] Yeah. I actually, again, don’t know a lot about the acoustics of birds, even though I think this is where a lot of the cognitive studies are happening. I think the goldfinch, particularly, has been studied a lot for bioacoustic communication, to be able to look at the construct of the brain and vocal learning, for example. But yes, in the broad range of frequencies, yeah, some animals. I work with, mostly, a lot with blue whales, and well, I can almost not hear their sounds because they’re way too low. [CHUCKLES]

[Charles Eldermire] Right. And there are definitely birds– there are even birds that, depending on how old you are, sometimes, you can hear them, sometimes, you can’t. So here’s this nuthatch, got a nice seed.

So if you are in the chat and you know of some species of birds that you can no longer hear, that’s also a fun thing to share with people. Because sometimes, people don’t realize that, that the, especially, the higher pitched birds can be difficult to hear as your hearing tends to attune quite a bit as you get older, just as a product of the aging process.

[Léa Bouffaut] Now, what I like about with the sound approach, one of the birds that I started, well, trying to find was the cat bird. Because I was walking around. I heard it. I thought a cat was trapped, and so I was trying to look for it. And so I like how it’s– well, the name speaks for itself. But I like how those sounds can trigger imagination as well. Yeah. And so I love paying attention. And now, I know what a cat bird is so double win.

[Charles Eldermire] That’s a great, great story. And I can remember, as a young teen, birding with my mother, and there being a cat bird, and me thinking it was a cat as well. So it really is. And I can’t wait til the cat birds come back, still months away here, but–

[Léa Bouffaut] Yes.

[Charles Eldermire] Does anybody have cat birds in the chat right now? If you do, I’d love to know where you are because maybe we need to plan a trip to your backyard, because that would be really nice.

So we still have some goldfinches hanging out, chickadee coming and going, titmice, nuthatches coming and going. We could be counting all these birds right now. I just realized that. If we were counting them, Becca, would there be something that we might want to do with them if we’re counting them next weekend?

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Yes. You definitely want to put them in the Great Backyard Bird Count.


If anybody is tuning in a little late, we’re talking a little bit about that today. So yeah, if you’re enjoying this, if you’re planning to be watching birds next weekend, tell us about them. Enter them into the Great Backyard Bird Count on our website, it’s

But I did want to bring up, some people get confused because we do have wonderful counts at the lab. We have Project FeederWatch, we have the Great Backyard Bird Count, and some people get confused. How do I enter birds in these different counts?

And what I tell people is the unique thing about the GBBC is that you have a start and an end time. So for right now, if we were counting during this hour together, you would literally just count every time you saw the different species of birds.

So right now, I’m seeing four American goldfinch on our screen. So those may be some of the same goldfinch– oh, is there five now? Awesome. There may be some of those that flew in earlier. That’s OK. Every time you see it, just put a little tally if you’re doing it on paper. If you’re actually entering it into eBird, just change your number as you see more of them fly in during that period of time.

But you just want to have a really clear start and end time. As many as you see in that time is how you would enter those birds. And they just flew away.

[Charles Eldermire] Yeah. And we got a bunch of questions about, like, what if you’re counting the same bird? And I think, to me, the answer always is it’s hard to ever know. And so the way that we’re collecting data, we’re able, through the help of people out there, to collect so much data that we can train, essentially, models, algorithms, whatever you want to call them, to basically help us sift through what the numbers mean. Is that about right?

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Yeah. When we actually are using this data on the scientific end, we can account for those redundancies. We know that there’s redundancies, and we can work with the data to account for those redundancies. So don’t be overly concerned about the fact that you might have five more chickadees than actually you really do, because it might be the same one going back and forth. That’s OK. From a scientific perspective, we have ways to deal with that.

[Charles Eldermire] That’s awesome. Since you’ve been here, Lea, have you had the opportunity to go on any sort of a bird walk with someone guiding the way? Or have you found yourself out and about with someone else that actually was excited about birds? I wonder even just from work, if you wind up getting dragged into bird-related conversations?

[Léa Bouffaut] Yes. [LAUGHS] I would say I had to. No, I wasn’t forced. I– [LAUGHS] one of my colleagues works with birds, even though she uses bioacoustics as well. And she took me to see ducks up in Montezuma. And again, coming from a lot of ignorance, I thought there was only one species of ducks. So I learned a lot that day. [LAUGHS]

[Charles Eldermire] Ducks are a pretty diverse group, and they can be pretty challenging to tell apart, especially if they’re not showing their brightest breeding plumage for some of them. And it sounds like maybe there’s still a little bit of confusion, Becca, whether you entered kind of a– when you’re entering your numbers, whether you’re entering the highest number seen at once or just an ongoing tally. And you might want to mention where people continue to have lots of questions about GBBC, there’s going to be something very focused on it coming up, right?

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Yeah, absolutely. So yeah, this is a really good question. Just to answer the question first. It’s your total number that you see during that time. It’s a tally. It’s not just the highest number. So you may only see one chickadee at a time in your feeder, but you’ve seen it, in the time frame you’re watching, five times. So you’re going to go with five. So it’s tallying it every time you see that bird show up.

And then, yeah, for people that are really interested in the Great Backyard Bird Count, we have a webinar coming up. It won’t be quite like this. We won’t be having a live cam, which is a lot of fun. But we’ll have representatives from the lab, from Audubon, because the GBBC is a three-organization project. Audubon will be there, and Birds Canada people will be there. And that webinar is next Wednesday, February 15, at 1:00 PM Eastern. So I think they’ll drop in the chat how you can sign up for that. But there’s going to be a lot more information about GBBC during that webinar.

[Charles Eldermire] Thanks, Becca. That’s perfect.

I like to think about bird count, like, what we’re doing today, watching this cam, which we’re planning on watching for another 15 minutes, people. So if you’re enjoying hanging out or you got to run, we totally– I kind of feel like we’re just virtually sitting in some chairs, sipping some tea, watching the birds, having some conversation. And I would love to share more of this time with people out there in the world. We don’t want to keep it all for ourselves, you know?

Another chickadee just popped in, grabbing a seed, grabbing a bigger seed and taking off. But one thing I like to stress to people because there’s a lot of questions that we get between FeederWatch, eBird, GBBC, atlasing, which is a totally different thing. So there’s lots of different ways we might count birds to study particular things. And the GBBC, I feel like, has the simplest, easiest kind of let’s get started, and see if we enjoy this. A minimum of complexity to get in the way of just enjoying the bird watching.

And if it’s something you enjoy, then you might actually enjoy counting in different ways for different kinds of projects. So for example, FeederWatch has its own way of counting that’s been done for 30 years. And you wouldn’t ever want to change that at this point, probably, unless you had a really good reason, because it allows you to compare things across that entire time.

So those are great questions. And you don’t need– the whole point of getting people out to do this is don’t need to be necessarily an experienced birder, right, Becca?

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] That’s absolutely true, you don’t. You could do GBBC and not know the name of any birds. And that’s one of the reasons why Merlin is such a powerful tool to use. Lots of drops there, goldfinch and chickadees. You can literally answer three or four questions in the Merlin app, and it will give you a set of possible answers for the type of bird you’re seeing.


There’s another good call.

[Charles Eldermire] There’s some blue jays coming in, I think. And Lea, I mean, you’ve talked about how little you know of birds. But I keep hearing you kind of connect the dots and identify things. Even as a person new to birds, would the GBBC be something that you would consider yourself qualified to do after hearing about this?

[Léa Bouffaut] Definitely. Like, this has helped a lot because initially, I would never be sure of what I’m seeing. And so I like having– like right now, for example, even though I try to not cheat, I have a open page next to– in my browser, with a few birds that are very common around the feeders and in Ithaca. So I can just like say, oh, I’ve seen that. But like, oh, I see there is another bird that just looks like it. Maybe I can pay attention to more details. That does help a lot as well.

But now, yeah, I feel very equipped. And actually, I’m planning on it to take half an hour, somewhere in a park in Ithaca. I live downtown, so I’m guessing my window wouldn’t be the best spot, maybe? [CHUCKLES]

[Charles Eldermire] And that’s the great thing. You don’t have to actually spend all of your time, necessarily, worrying about, am I counting the exact right way? Meaning, like, having a series of very precise ways you need to be counting in order for your count to count, which is a lot of counting, I understand. But for me, it’s the same thing as when I go do this stuff with my kids. I’d rather be watching birds– you know what I mean– then really nit picking the vagaries of the best way to count.

And that’s part of the reason why I love the GBBC. It’s like– oh, it looks like there’s just a little bit of sunlight on those peanuts. And we get so little sunlight in Ithaca that just it looks really pretty to me right now, even without the birds. That it’s a great way to get other people involved, because they can spot birds. Kids are really great at spotting birds. Most people are good at spotting them. But then, oh, what if I identify them wrong?

And that’s where these tools come in handy. And it’s definitely not cheating, Lea, to use tools to identify the birds. It’s not a quiz. It really isn’t a quiz. It’s just the opportunity to get to know this incredible thing that’s flying around the world right outside where you live. And instead of ignoring it or just thinking that you’re unqualified, here’s some tools to make you potentially the expert of your neighborhood just because you spent the time, which is pretty cool.

[Léa Bouffaut] Yeah, I agree. I do agree. No, it’s– and it’s very engaging. And I don’t know, I think it’s pretty fun. And those moments like this when you’re just like scrutinizing your horizon, it’s basically like whale watching. So I’m down.


We’re just waiting for something.

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Yeah.

[Charles Eldermire] The other thing I really like about this– and Becca, I don’t know if you’ve had this experience much because Lea is new to this– but a lot of bird watching is what’s on screen right now.

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Right.

[Charles Eldermire] Which is to say, no birds. Do you have a sense of why that is? Where do the birds go?

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Well, we can tell a funny story when we were chatting last week and testing this out on that stump that’s right behind the mixed seed feeder, a Cooper’s hawk landed, I kid the audience not, in real time, while we were watching, and there was nothing going on right before that bird landed or right after.

And so who knows? Maybe right now, on one of the treetops around these feeders, there’s possibly a predatory bird like a Cooper’s hawk that is– oh, but this chickadee is bold, if there is one– that has scared everything away. There can be all kinds of things that will throw birds off, and they’ll sort of disappear. But look at, they’ll start showing up again.

So patience is wonderful. It’s one of the reasons why you could bird watch for an hour. Because there’s these quiet moments where you can just get lost in the moment, and then a bird flies in front of you and you’re brought back to what you’re doing. So it’s a very peaceful, I find, a peaceful hobby.

[Charles Eldermire] That’s a really great way to describe it. We had a question here. Sounds like maybe someone’s surprised that we’re not seeing many sparrows. And that gets back to what, in a way, that Becca was talking about habitat earlier.

And we’ve talked about different ways to identify birds a little bit. We talked about their size. We talked about their shape, their colors. These are all questions that if you go into Merlin, it would actually ask you, about how big was the bird? What three colors were its most dominant colors?

But it also asks about what you saw it doing and where you saw it doing it. Not necessarily Ithaca, meaning like geographical. Where was– where was the bird while it was doing that? Was it in a field? Was it on a fencepost? Was it in a tree?

And it turns out that birds have, sometimes, very close affinities to certain kinds of habitats, right? So– ooh, there’s a beautiful blue jay. [WHISTLES] What a cool bird. And you can see everybody got out of the way because that bird is a bruiser.

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] He’ll scare everyone off. [CHUCKLES]

[Charles Eldermire] Oh.

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Ooh.

[Charles Eldermire] So these guys are probably either mates or related to each other.

[Léa Bouffaut] Is there a way to tell male and female blue jays? Only the males, on average, are slightly bigger. But that doesn’t even mean, within a pair, that they would always be necessarily bigger. So there isn’t outside of genetics. And if you have a nest camera, potentially, watching who lays the egg, which is actually very helpful.

I don’t know if people could hear that, but there was a cool sound that was like a [TRILLING WHISTLE], kind of sound like a rusty gate, kind of like a door– rusty gate opening. And that’s a cool vocalization that the blue jays make. And they often make that when they’re slightly– when they’re either unsure about something. Or they’ll make it to scare everything a little bit to make them think there’s something they should be unsure about. And then they [SWOOPING SOUND] swoop in and grab the food.

So the habitat is an important part. The question about sparrows earlier, you know, right where this spot is, on the edge of a pond, basically, surrounded by woods, it’s nice because we get this little open area habitat right on the edge of the woods, which brings in different birds, for sure, because they’ll follow along the edge of the habitat. But there’s not a lot of great sparrow habitat right there.

So the only sparrows we would normally see would be juncos, which are kind of a sparrow. We’ll see tree sparrows, American tree sparrows. Every once in a while, in the garden, there’s white-throated sparrows or white-crowned sparrows. But I would say, for the most part, sparrows are relatively uncommon on this camera.

Oh, and we’re getting people wondering if there’s a way– if there’s a link to this live camera. And my goodness, there is. We’ll have somebody put that in the chat. But it’s just if you just search for Cornell Feeder Cam, this should be what comes up.

We do have other cameras that we run with partners. One is up in Northern Ontario that there were a few questions about. And they have really cool boreal species, like pine gross beaks, and evening gross beaks, and red polls.

We have one in West Texas that’s primarily focused on hummingbirds. But over the winter, they get cool birds like hepatic tanagers, and they get bush tits and all sorts of fun stuff. And then we do have a feeder down in Panama as well that gets all kinds of really interesting tropical species including, sometimes, toucans, and aracaris, and motmots and things.

So it looks like there is just a link maybe popped into the chat. But if you just do a quick Google search on Cornell Bird Cams, you’re going to find your way there for sure.

So we got about five minutes planned left. And I think I said at the start, I hope part of what you’re getting out of this is part of the fun for lots of people is actually watching birds with other people, because you hear a lot of the stories that you didn’t know about. It might be stories about the birds. It might be stories about them.

For other people, it’s much more of a solitary endeavor. And that’s awesome too. But if you’re searching for that community, hopefully, we can be a part of that community. And some of the people that are around you, wherever you are, by you taking that step into helping them enjoy birds, are going to want to enjoy birds with you too.

And so before it gets so late that we’re leaving, I just want to thank everybody who’s been here, because it’s really fun to see over 1,000 people show up just to hang out and listen to us jabber and share what they’re seeing and hearing in the chat.

We spent a little bit of time talking about Great Backyard Bird Count. And I wonder if there’s anything else you want to just share and make sure these viewers here, towards the end, have as a take-home there, Becca.

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Yeah. Well, I want to echo Charles. It’s lovely to be watching birds with other people. This has been a lot of fun.

Just a couple quick plugs. First of all, the bird cams are a lot of fun. But I just want to remind the audience that if you do participate in GBBC this year, we’re not going to count right off of the cams. As you can imagine, that is its own level of complication in terms of, you could have thousands of people entering birds from this one location.

So look out your windows, go for a walk, tell us what’s in and around your communities. And also then, take a break and come in and just watch the cams, and have your relaxing moment in the house watching cams later that day. So I wanted to plug that.

And then one more thing, some people wonder, hey, I have feeders. Is it safe to be feeding birds? How do I manage and take care of my bird feeder stations? During GBBC, I always like to take my feeders down and give them a good cleaning right before. Just make sure that once a week is usually good protocol. Scrub them down with a really mild soap. Make sure they’re fully stocked for the count weekend, so feel free to do that as well.

In terms of being safe, that’s really a local question. I don’t know of any disease issues right now in our region where I’m at. Eye finch disease can be a problem, but I haven’t seen any signs of it this year. Have you, Charles?

[Charles Eldermire] No, thankfully. And if this all sounds interesting to you, there are resources on our websites, both on how to clean your feeders and about house finch eye disease. There’s statements about avian influenza, which really hasn’t been a thing for songbirds.

It still continues to be an issue primarily where it is an issue among– ooh, look at that pretty blue jay– among raptors, so bald eagles, red-tailed hawks. Unfortunately, just north of us in Syracuse, they had a wonderful red-tailed hawk cam for a number of years. And both of those adults died in the last few weeks of avian influenza. And that’s because they’re eating things that had influenza. OK? And same thing with bald eagles.

And ducks are one of the primary reservoirs and mixers of avian influenza. That’s where avian influenza basically has evolved. And so especially creatures that overlap with those ducks are the things most at risk, which are, thankfully, at least, not these songbirds.

So with that, I’m going to look over my list to make sure here. Want to make sure people understand, if you want to participate in GBBC, in Great Backyard Bird Count, you can Google it, but there’s all kinds of links in the chat that have been there,, right?

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Yep.

[Charles Eldermire] If you want to learn about Conservation Bioacoustics and what Lea is up to with whales, is there a website for the Yang Center?

[Léa Bouffaut] Yes. We have a page on the lab website. So if you look Bioacoustics Cornell Lab of O, you will find us. [CHUCKLES]

[Charles Eldermire] Awesome. Thank you. And yes, our Cornell hawks, as far as we know, are still good. The camera has been offline for a while because of an electrical issue. But supposedly, that’s going to be fixed this week by our good friends at Cornell facilities. So fingers crossed because we’re only about a month to a month and a half away from the Cornell hawks kicking off their breeding season.

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Oh, wow, look at that.

[Charles Eldermire] Oh, look at that beautiful red belly. And you can see the red belly. That’s a red-bellied woodpecker. It’s a female. You can see how it’s like bright orange-red mohawk, takes a break for a little bit of forehead, which I can relate to.

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] [LAUGHS]

[Charles Eldermire] And that bird is sitting on what’s actually a cast to make it look like a piece of wood. But inside, there is a bark butter cylinder that they’re eating. So it’s like a peanut butter-based suet product that Wild Birds Unlimited developed.

So I could actually sit here all day and do this. And we’re getting lots of great feedback in the chat. So there’s a good chance we’ll do this again some time. If you did enjoy it, feel free to drop us a line at That’s our email, because we’d love to hear about what you liked and even what you didn’t like, if there was anything like that.

But with that, and now that it’s almost 47 minutes after the hour, I just want to, again, thank everyone for coming. Please share your love of birds, whatever brought you here today, whether it was curiosity or already, you knew that you liked birds, take it and give it to somebody else. Whether it’s our camera or pointing out a bird somewhere, you’re way better than we are at talking to your friends and helping them care about birds.

So thank you. I’m going to stop this screen share just so we can all say goodbye to you. Signing off from the Cornell Lab, I’m Charles. Thank you for spending time with us today.

[Léa Bouffaut] Thank you for spending this time. This was very, very fun. I’m Lea. Bye.

[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Bye, everybody. Hope to see you next weekend.

[Charles Eldermire] Take care, everyone. And good birding.

End of transcript

It’s a bird watching party! A group from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology hosted a fun livestream of our FeederWatch Bird Cams where we relaxed together while learning about common feeder birds seen in the winter. Lots of viewers hopped on into the chat and birdwatched with us. After the stream, we hope you’ll join us for the upcoming Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). Whether you are a Bird Cams enthusiast, a casual bird watcher, or someone interested in sharing your bird observations for science, this event is sure to please!