Thumbnail image Ronan Nicholson | Macaulay Library

[Chelsea Benson] Hi, everyone. We are going to be starting our FeederWatch webinar in just a moment. I’m enjoying reading through the chat and seeing where everyone is from. It’s so exciting to see people from all over the US. I see Massachusetts, North Carolina, Missouri, Oregon, New Jersey, I saw some Minnesota. So very excited to see people joining us from across the US, and from across Canada. Welcome to our Canadian FeederWatchers.

It’s so exciting for you joining us today to learn about the new exciting features from FeederWatch, to get your bird feeding questions answered. The season starts this Wednesday, November 1, so it’s a great time to get all those things answered and get yourself ready for the upcoming FeederWatch season.

All right. So we’re going to get started. Welcome to today’s webinar. We’re going to be chatting about feeding birds, and about Project FeederWatch, which is a joint project from Birds Canada, and from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. My name is Chelsea Benson. I’m on the visitor center team at the Cornell Lab, and I’m going to be facilitating today’s conversation with our FeederWatch project leaders. I’m going to bring them on in just a moment.

I have a couple of tech notes for our audience, closed captioning is available on Zoom. If you want to turn the captions on or off, you can click that captions button at the bottom of your screen. If you don’t see a captions button, click More, and you should see it there.

If you’re on Zoom, we are going to be taking questions today. So you can use that Q&A button at the bottom of the screen to get your questions answered by our project leaders. I see some people are already putting questions in the Q&A. So that’s really great. We’ll be answering some of those questions verbally, and for others we’ll be typing in a response, which you can see in the answered column.

We’re going to use the Zoom chat only for technical support. So don’t put questions there. We won’t see them. But if you are having trouble with Zoom, add your question there and I have colleagues who are behind the scenes. They’re helping answer questions and providing technical assistance.

We also are streaming live to YouTube. So Hello to our YouTube audience. We’re so excited you could join us today. If you’re watching there, we’ll also be answering your questions, so feel free to add them to the comments part of YouTube. All right. That was a lot of announcements, but we’re going to get started. I want to welcome our guests the Project FeederWatch leaders. Joining us today, we have Kerrie Wilcox from Birds Canada.

[Kerrie Wilcox] Hi, everyone.

[Chelsea Benson] Welcome, Kerrie. And then we have Emma Greig from the Cornell Lab. Hi, Emma.

[Emma Greig] Hello. Good to be here.

[Chelsea Benson] Yes, I’m so excited. We had thousands of people register for this event. People just love FeederWatch. We have a lot of new and fun stuff to talk about, so thank you both for joining us. First off, Emma, FeederWatch starts this Wednesday, November 1.

[Emma Greig] Up.

[Chelsea Benson] I know, it’s hard to believe. 37th season.

[Emma Greig] I know. It’s a lot of FeederWatch.

[Chelsea Benson] Could you please give us a quick overview, what is FeederWatch?

[Emma Greig] Yeah. The quickest thing to say about it is it’s a winter bird counting project. So you look out your windows, count the birds that you see at your feeders or maybe not at your feeders if you don’t have feeders, and then you send them in to our database, and we keep track of everything for you. So that’s the quick and dirty about what FeederWatch is.

[Chelsea Benson] And as you kind of hinted there, one thing that people might not know is that you don’t have to have a bird feeder to participate in FeederWatch. And so, Kerrie, I’d love if you could share how do people participate if they don’t have a feeder. It seems counterintuitive because it’s called FeederWatch, but how do they participate? Do they need anything special?

[Kerrie Wilcox] That’s right. Don’t let the name fool you. You can participate in FeederWatch without a feeder. You just need to have provided something for birds like habitat, fruiting shrubs, trees, a water feature or food, and then count the birds that are attracted to these features, and you’ll be giving us really important data.

We don’t know a lot about the impacts of bird feeders, so one of the best ways to understand these impacts is to compare sites with feeders to sites without. So we really want people to participate without feeders.

[Chelsea Benson] And that makes it so much more accessible too. If you have shrubs or water feature, whatever it is that you’re helping to provide for birds, you can still count what comes to your area. It doesn’t have to be a bird feeder. You don’t have to purchase bird food. It really just opens up the project to a wider range of folks that want to participate.

So, Emma, as we kind of hinted, this is the 37th season, but it’s not the same old season this year. There’s some really exciting changes afoot. I’d love if you could dive into a couple of the changes that are happening this year, and what that means for all our FeederWatch participants.

[Emma Greig] Yeah, well, ever since I have been here at the lab, which is over 10 years now, we have been having this thing ringing around in our minds, oh, if only we could add mammals to FeederWatch. Always we say this. Well, it’s finally happening. Now you can record the mammals that come to your yard as well as the birds. So that’s one of the biggest changes that’s on the horizon.

[Chelsea Benson] And I just– pulling up–

[Emma Greig] Yeah, you got it. Good.

[Chelsea Benson] Yeah, so I took some photos right from the FeederWatch data entry page of some of the mammals that are listed now that people can record. So let’s talk a little bit more. So these are the mammals that people can record and, of course, there’s another because we can never predict every single animal that might visit someone’s FeederWatch site.

[Emma Greig] Exactly. Yeah.

[Chelsea Benson] So is it the same protocol as counting birds?

[Emma Greig] Yes, that’s the idea to just follow the same protocol that you use when you count birds, the most that you see at one time. That’s a nice conservative way to count, and that way you know you’re not counting the same animal over and over again. And here, we’ve kind of listed the most common things that you’re likely to encounter, chipmunks, squirrels, domestic cats, dogs.

We want to know about some of these animals that are maybe welcome in your yard, but maybe also not so welcome. And I’m really curious to see what shows up from this. It’s just such a new thing, so it’ll be great to see what people observe.

[Chelsea Benson] And the next one that was really interesting and Peter watchers have been asking for a while is to be able to provide more information about bird health. So what’s the new part of that you’re going to be collecting this year?

[Emma Greig] Well, in the past, we’ve done a really good job of collecting information about house finch eye disease. And so you can see in that photo, there’s a house finch with eye disease. They very conspicuous, they look quite awful, and that is a disease that FeederWatchers have tracked so well over the past several decades that we can really look at the disease dynamics of that particular disease using FeederWatch data.

Well, you may have noticed over the past few years, there have been outbreaks of different things. Sometimes we know what they are, like the salmonella outbreak that hit a lot of finches a couple of years ago. Sometimes we don’t know what the outbreaks are. There was that strange thing that happened in the Washington D.C. Eastern region, and I still think we don’t know what that disease was that hit a bunch of birds.

So what we want to start doing now is collecting data on any strange disease symptoms that FeederWatchers might observe so that we can start amassing all of this symptom information in the same place, the same way that we have with house finch disease for so many years.

And our hope is that that’s going to give us a much better picture of when big disease outbreaks spread across the US and Canada, and, I guess, that’s it. Just a much better picture of how they’re spreading and where they’re happening. So that’s the new thing with respect to sick birds.

Another extra new detail is we are going to start letting people report when they find dead birds. You might have a dead bird that your cat brings home, you might find a dead bird that hits your window, you might not know why you have a dead bird in your yard, but now you can report those mortality events. And again, we’re just going to see what kind of data comes in. It’s a new thing for us to be collecting, so I’m very curious.

[Chelsea Benson] It’s not like the most heartening of data to collect, but it is very important to be studying these and tracking these, and as you said, FeederWatch has a really long, rich history of tracking disease in birds, and so it’s really important that you can now count different species and different symptoms, and we’re only talking birds here. So if you do see a sick mammal that’s not part of this data collection, is that correct?

[Emma Greig] That’s correct, yes.

[Chelsea Benson] OK. Great. We will touch on feeder safety more in a few minutes in the webinar. So I know that there are questions out there about what to do if you see a sick or diseased birds, but we’ll definitely spend time talking about that in a couple minutes because it is really important to know what to do to keep your birds– your FeederWatch site safe.

The next thing that is cool and interesting, Emma, is behavioral interactions. You guys have been talking about behavioral interactions for a few years now, but now it’s expanded.

[Emma Greig] Yeah, that has been sort of a small part of data entry sort of tucked away to the side since it got created. Yeah, four or five years ago, I can’t quite remember, and we’ve collected some really beautiful data about dominance interactions, and predation events at FeederWatch sites.

But what we’ve done now is since we’re sort of redoing all the data entry to incorporate mammals and sick birds and bird mortality, we’ve put the behavioral interaction data entry just right up front, the front and center along with all of the other data, so you don’t have to hunt around for it anymore, and our hope is that this will make it easier for folks to find the behavioral interaction, data entry, and maybe more inclined to take note when they observe some cool behaviors at their feeders.

[Chelsea Benson] Yeah and I found this cute little clip from the Ontario FeederWatch cam. I’ll let you watch it.

[Emma Greig] Yeah, let’s see it.

[Chelsea Benson] Yeah, so this is an example of displacement.

[Emma Greig] That little squirrel scares off that crow. That’s outrageous.

[Chelsea Benson] I know I thought that too. It’s just the tiniest little red squirrel, but they are so feisty. So I know that people are seeing all kinds of really cool stuff at their feeders, and now they’re going to be able to expand, recording those interactions that they see, including maybe tiny little red squirrels chasing off enormous crowds.

[Emma Greig] Oh, right. Well, and that’s the new part of it is we’ve been collecting bird interactions all this time, but being able to collect interactions between mammals and birds will be the new part of that. Yeah, I forgot to mention that.

[Chelsea Benson] And then one other thing I wanted to talk about before we switch gears and talk about our feeder sites is that while you’re collecting all this information about mammals, behavioral interactions, disease, the new part that we’re going to be recording now too is the emotions, how you feel when you see these things.

So, Emma, what is FeederWatch hoping to learn by recording emotions? And these emojis are right from the FeederWatch website. This is the data entry page. This is what the emojis look like. So what are you hoping to learn by collecting information about what people’s emotions are around what they observe?

[Emma Greig] Well I think that we often think about our bird feeding hobbies and what we do in our yard and all that stuff as sort of things we do that impact birds, and that’s kind of the direction that we think of it. But I think it’s also true that what we observe in our yards, the birds we see, the sick birds, the healthy birds, the cool mammals, the not-so-cool mammals. That also affects how we feel and our well-being.

And so what we’re trying to get at by asking these questions is start to understand the give and take between what the birds are doing and the mammals, and what we’re doing, and how that back and forth happens. And I know these emojis look kind of silly and you might think, oh, that’s not science. You can’t be doing science with a bunch of emojis.

But actually, you can convert those emojis to numbers, and there’s a whole field called social science in which people who are just as trained as someone who’s an ecologist can analyze these kinds of data, and come up with some really cool observations and patterns that are happening. So that’s one of– that’s probably the most out of the box thing that we’re trying with FeederWatch this year, and another thing I’m real curious to see.

[Chelsea Benson] Yeah, I’m curious too. Yeah, it’s fascinating because I know full disclosure, I worked for FeederWatch for a few years, and when people write in to ask questions, they’re often like, my bird’s, we feel emotionally attached to what’s happening at the site that we’re observing. And so it will be very interesting to scientifically quantify what those emotions are, and there are actions that you have to what you see.

[Emma Greig] Yeah, exactly.

[Chelsea Benson] Yeah, it’s really great. Kerrie, I wanted to switch gears and talk about feeder sites for a minute, because there’s new information now that people can record about their feeder sites this year for Project FeederWatch. So if you could take a second dive into those weekly changes that people make, and what is it– what are they? And what do they mean? Why are why are we interested in learning about them?

[Kerrie Wilcox] Well, that’s great. For the first time this year, we can record any management activities that we’ve done to our site in between our count dates. So we’re– by management, I’m talking with put up a new feeder or different food or a squirrel baffle, anything you’ve done to change what you’ve provided because of something you saw.

So if a flock of siskins has arrived, I would automatically put up a finch feeder or if squirrels are a problem, try moving your feeders around. So this is new information. And we’re going to learn a lot about feeder watchers. How are you making your decisions and why?

[Chelsea Benson] Absolutely. And if you see that bear, you observe that bear. Well, we obviously at FeederWatch have a pretty standard protocol. If we see a bear we always ask feeder watchers to remove the feeder. So now you can track that behavior of removing a feeder because you saw a bear to your FeederWatch data. So it’s really cool to be able to do that on a weekly basis, and that’s a really neat feature.

We’ve been talking about feeder sites and I promise that our audience that we dive into what we can do to keep those spaces safe and healthy for birds, and now for mammals that visit our feeder sites. So, Emma, could you provide a little bit more information about how to do that? What are some steps the FeederWatchers can take?

[Emma Greig] Yeah, so I guess there are various things that a person can do to make their yard as welcoming as possible for birds, and I guess a good one is– I mean, Kerrie, you should help me with this too, but I feel like one good one is keep your cats inside if you can. We know the cats do a fair amount of bird killing, so that’s one step that you can take.

And another one that comes to mind is to try not to use pesticides if at all possible. The more insect friendly your yard is, the more bird friendly your yard is. So that’s one that I like to mention. Kerrie, what are some other good ones?

[Kerrie Wilcox] We know strikes is another one. If you can break up reflections on your windows, feeder placements are really important too. If you could put your feeders within 3 feet of your window. So if they’re startled and they take off, they don’t have enough momentum to really hit hard and cause damage.

[Chelsea Benson] Yeah, that’s a good one. And then if they’re seeing signs of disease at feeders, what’s your recommendation for cleaning feeder sites, and also for removing feeders?

[Emma Greig] Well, I guess right now we have a recommendation of, in general, clean your feeders every couple of weeks, but I would say it’s not the most informed date range possible. That’s part of what we’re going to try to learn from all these new data coming in are, what amount of feeder cleaning is really effective at minimizing disease spread?

In terms of taking down feeders, that’s a little tricky. Certainly, if you have diseased birds that are there for a while, a good thing to do is to take down your feeders and let them disperse so that you’re not just continuing the spread of disease, but if a diseased bird shows up for a day and then disappears, maybe just a washing is enough. I don’t know. What do you think, Kerrie? I always stumble a little bit on these recommendations because they’re not real hard and fast.

[Kerrie Wilcox] I always recommend breaking underneath your feeder as well to remove any droppings or contaminated seeds so that you’re not spreading it that way as well.

[Chelsea Benson] Yeah, you have to think about it, just like your own home and your own dishes, you like things nice and clean. You don’t want to have build up accumulating, and so just kind of doing a regular cleaning with– I think you usually recommend like a hot, soapy water with a really dilute bleach, and then keeping the ground clean too from droppings that accumulate is a good way to help keep your site nice and clean for birds, well, as clean as you can when you have messy birds eating all over the place.

[Emma Greig] Yeah.

[Chelsea Benson] All right. We are going to spend some time talking about the details of counting and birds and how to submit your data. Not too much time, but we have some polls for our audience where we’re going to do some practicing.

But before we dig into those practice questions and polls, Kerrie, could you review what’s the two-day cat– the two-day tally, how does it work? What should we be counting specifically? Yeah, if you could dig into that and inform our FeederWatch audience.

[Kerrie Wilcox] Well, for the data to be used for scientific purposes, we always have to count– we all have to be counting in the same way. So we have two-day count periods, which are consecutive days, and they’re always in pairs, so then it’s completely flexible. You can count for as long as you like during the two days. It could be just a short period of time on the first day, or you can count for the full two days, so you decide how much time to spend.

And during your count days, we ask you to count the highest number of each species that you see at a single time. So if you see a chickadee coming and going all day long but you only ever see one at a time, then at the end of your two days you’re recording just one because you only know for sure that there is one in your count site. And don’t count fly overs. Just count birds that are coming to the features that you have provided for them. And don’t count birds outside of your two-date count.

[Chelsea Benson] And the same information applies for mammals now too because–

[Kerrie Wilcox] That’s right.

[Chelsea Benson] I’ve seen some questions like somebody has bobcats and kits, which is so exciting.

[Emma Greig] Wow.

[Chelsea Benson] Oh, my gosh–

[Emma Greig] Awesome.

[Chelsea Benson] I hope you get to see them during FeederWatch and send pictures in. But if they show up on a day that is a non-count day would they be recorded?

[Emma Greig] I know. No, you’re not supposed to count on your non-count days.

[Chelsea Benson] I know.

[Emma Greig] It’s terrible.

[Chelsea Benson] It’s just like if a really special bird shows up at your feeder, and it’s not your feeder watch day. It’s so hard not to count it. You could–

[Kerrie Wilcox] Please send us a picture though.

[Emma Greig] Yeah, send us a picture.

[Chelsea Benson] But the reason for that is not because we’re no fun, it’s because there’s a scientific protocol in place. Everybody’s collecting data in the same way because if we only shared the really cool and exciting stuff that happened, it would skew the data set. Just like we were saying, even if you count and you don’t see anything, and that’s kind of a boring time for you perhaps but maybe meditative, I don’t know.

[Emma Greig] Yeah, meditative. That’s a good.

[Chelsea Benson] Meditative way. That’s a way nicer phrase than boring.

[Emma Greig] Yeah.

[Chelsea Benson] You would still record that you didn’t have any observations during that time because absence, as we talk about in science, is just as important as presence data. So don’t just count the special things that come every day, common birds and mammals now that come during that two day period are super interesting for us.

And, again, like if you see a mammal or a bird that’s outside your count site, you wouldn’t count it just like those flyover birds. If you see a dog walking down the street that’s outside your site, that wouldn’t be incorporated in your data.

I think that– oh, and then the other big part of it is it’s two day period, and so, Kerry, if you saw like 10 birds like chickadees on one day and hen on the next day, you wouldn’t add those two together.

[Kerrie Wilcox] That’s right your final count would be 10. And when I say coming to your feeder coming to your count site to count any of the birds that are in the shrubs around your site so all the ones of the same species that you see at a single time in your count site.

[Chelsea Benson] That’s right. And did I see a question here like, if they’re sitting in the shrubs waiting to come to the feeder or if you have a hawk that’s been drawn into the activity at your feeder, should you count all those?

[Kerrie Wilcox] Yes. Absolutely.

[Chelsea Benson] So it’s not just birds that are landing on– we’re saying feeder because it’s habit, but what we should be saying is feeder site.

[Kerrie Wilcox] That’s right.

[Chelsea Benson] Yeah, so my apologies. I keep saying feeder because it’s force of habit for me, but when feeder sites, the areas that you’re providing shrubs, water, fruits, seeds, whatever it may be, when they’re coming into that area, that’s when you’re counting them.

Well, I thought it’d be fun for us to do some practice with our audience. So audience, you’re going to participate. The way this is going to happen is I have three poles we’re going to do– they’re going to go from easy to hard. So when I– I’m going to share my screen. I’ll put up a poll, and if you’re watching on Zoom, the poll will pop up on your screen, and you can vote for your answer.

For our YouTube audience, the poll will be incorporated into the comments section on YouTube, so you’ll be able to share your answer. And if you don’t know, that’s OK. That’s why we’re practicing. We’re just having fun. I know I’m pretty type A. I had like a math stress dream the other day.

So it’s OK if you’re not ready for this quiz. So let’s try a poll. And if it blocks your screen if you’re on Zoom, sometimes when the polls pop up, it might cover your screen, and you can just drag that poll away. You can move them, which is great. So let’s give this a try.

Give me a second. Can you guys see the simple counting poll? Or can you see the slide? So we just reviewed this. So our question is, we have a two-day tally with FeederWatch. Day one, you saw one pine siskin, and on day two, you saw six. So how many pine siskins would you record for your two-day count to FeederWatch? And I’m going to pop the poll up.

All right. So you should see a poll. Feel free to add your response. I give you a good 40s or so. Again, we start with a picture before I get you with videos. That’s the hard part.

[Emma Greig] Good idea. Yeah.

[Chelsea Benson] All right. This is cool. All right. The voting is slowing, but I’ll give it another like 10 seconds here. All right. So our results were 93% way to go. Team FeederWatch, you are correct. The tip is you don’t add day one and day two together. You want to take the maximum, you saw for that in one instance, and record it to FeederWatch.

And you can record on the FeederWatch website, or there’s an app, but we should note that on the FeederWatch app, Emma, can you record the new data on the app yet, or is it only the website?

[Emma Greig] Only the website. The app is only birds not all the other cool stuff. So we’re working on the app and trying to get it up to speed soon enough.

[Chelsea Benson] We can only do so much. So website if for all the new data, but you can record stuff on the app. And for our next quiz, like I said, we’re going to get a little more complicated. We’re going to watch some video.

[Emma Greig] OK. Let’s try it. I’m going to do it too. I want to try to see if I can count them.

[Chelsea Benson] For our audience, if you’re watching, what I find to be super helpful when I’m watching my feeders and counting and my feeder site– there I go doing feeders specific again. When I’m watching my feeder site is I usually have a pen and paper, and I’m writing down tally marks.

And so in the chat, our Zoom helpers from Birds Canada and the Cornell Lab are adding a link to a downloadable tally sheet that you can use when you’re feeder watching. And I just find that having a piece of paper really helps me count birds. So if you’re watching right now and you want to grab a piece of paper or not, that’s fine too. We’re going to– oh, there’s our answer, six. You guys are good.

All right. So now we’re going to do– we’re going to do two videos. So for this video, again you’re going to count the number of each species you see. If you see a species like flying around in the back of the frame, don’t worry about it. We’re really focusing on the ones that are at the feeder.

If you are doing your FeederWatch day, you’d want to try to get those birds in the bushes and in the trees. But for the purposes of our practice pole, that’s just a little too tricky because the cam can only see this narrow window. So focus on the birds at the feeder.

We have four species– three species, sorry. We have a dark eyed junco, a male and a female evening grosbeak. The males have that yellow like forehead, and then a white crowned sparrow who kind of has a creamish-colored crown in this video. So again, we’re going to watch. I’ll play the video twice and record what you see.

All right. One more time.

[Emma Greig] Oh, gosh. I don’t know. I got a guess.

[Chelsea Benson] It’s fine. I sympathize with all FeederWatchers. It takes a lot of practice and it is hard, but it’s fun. It’s a good challenge. And I didn’t mention this is from our Ontario FeederWatch cam. This was taken last October.

[Emma Greig] Boy, those little juncos just zoom by. It’s easy to miss them. I don’t know. I got a guess.

[Chelsea Benson] You got some guesses? All right. Oops. There we go. I’m going to put up our poll. So here’s the options audience. We’re going to launch the poll.

[Emma Greig] D. No, no. I won’t pick D. No, no, no.

[Chelsea Benson] All right. So for our Ontario cam, how many juncos, grosbeaks, and white crowned sparrows did you see? And I apologize. In the poll I had to shorten the species name because it didn’t all fit. The species were too long. We have a clear contender for number one.

[Emma Greig] We sure do.

[Chelsea Benson] You all are well-practiced. And for people who are saying, no idea, that is OK. Emma said no idea too.

[Emma Greig] Yeah, I said no idea.

[Chelsea Benson] I’m going to give you all another like 10 seconds because it’s slowing down. Our voting is slowing way down Wow. FeederWatchers are good the correct answer is A. There were two dark-eyed juncos, two evening grosbeaks, and one white-crowned sparrow. And as Emma noted, those juncos are tricky. They were zooming in or around.

[Emma Greig] I know. Sometimes I was like, is that one? Is that the same one? Is that a different one? I don’t know. It’s tough.

[Chelsea Benson] And that’s where that protocol comes in the max. You see at one time because it’s hard. You can’t differentiate.

[Emma Greig] Well, yeah, there you go.

[Chelsea Benson] All right. Last one we’re going to do, we’re going to get a little trickier because I can tell our audience is up for the challenge. This video coming up, if I can get it is from the Cornell Lab FeederWatch cam taken last winter. And now we have five species. So a goldfinch, a black-capped chickadee, downy woodpecker, tufted titmouse, and a white-breasted nuthatch.

And the reason I wanted to show you this is as Kerrie was mentioning, the chickadees and titmice can be tricky because they do this grab and go behavior where they take a seed and they leave. And so you don’t want to add up every single time you see a chickadee. So if it zooms in and out, you didn’t you don’t go one, two, three, four, five, six. You have to see two at once to make it two. So that’s like the big hint here. All right. And I’ll play it twice.

[Emma Greig] Oh, my God. They’re moving so fast.

[Chelsea Benson] Can you see them in the bushes? Don’t worry about them too much. We’re really focused on the feeder here.

[Emma Greig] Oh, OK. Only on the feeder. OK.

[Chelsea Benson] Only the ones that are coming to the feeders.

[Emma Greig] What is that guy behind that log? I can’t even see. I just see a little beak.

[Chelsea Benson] Go come to the platform in a minute.

[Emma Greig] Come on come on to the platform, buddy. I can’t see you. Oh, OK. I see. I see him. OK. Oh, well, I’m not writing anything down. So I don’t remember. Just sitting here watching it.

[Chelsea Benson] All right. We’ll do it again. I’m going to show it again. And actually the ones that are all kind of in the shrubs eventually do come to the feeder. I tried to not make it too hard for you. One more. Write it down next time. One more time. Here we go. Now nuthatch. He does like this cool display. I don’t know if he did it yet.

[Emma Greig] Oh, I didn’t even notice that last time. I was so busy trying to keep track of these titmice. Oh, there we go. Oh he is mad, isn’t he? That’s cool.


Oh, gosh. OK. I got a guess, but let’s see. What’s the options here?

[Chelsea Benson] Here we go. Oops. Here’s our options. I’m going to launch our poll.

[Emma Greig] OK. Yeah, I got a guess.

[Chelsea Benson] Go ahead, audiences. Enter your guesses.

[Emma Greig] Well, yeah, they’re choosing the one I was guessing. OK. Yeah. No, it’s not such a runaway as the other one though. This is a little more. This one’s tricky.

[Chelsea Benson] And I honestly think it’s harder watching like the cam video because your field of view is so narrow because it’s hard to see when they go off into the bushes like, what was that? You couldn’t see the one behind the log for a while.

[Emma Greig] Yeah, exactly.

[Chelsea Benson] The cam honestly in my opinion, more challenging than when you’re watching your own feeder site.

[Emma Greig] I think that makes sense. Yeah, unless you’ve got it going in slow mo or something.

[Chelsea Benson] All right. I’m going to give people 10 more seconds. The answers are kind of slowing down here, but we have a clear winner is C. And you all were right. Kerrie, is that what you guessed too?

[Kerrie Wilcox] Yeah.

[Chelsea Benson] Yeah. All right, good deal.

[Kerrie Wilcox] I don’t think my feeders are as busy as this one.

[Chelsea Benson] Oh, my gosh. Thank you all for playing along. That was really fun.

[Emma Greig] Yeah, that was good.

[Chelsea Benson] And I hope our audience enjoyed that too. And as promised, we are going to spend the remainder of our webinar together answering your questions. I can see that the chat and the Q&A have been blowing up, which is exciting. I’m so happy that you all have so many questions and are so excited about feeding birds and counting mammals and all that stuff.

So thanks to everybody who’s been submitting questions. And thanks to Heidi and Jody, who are behind the scenes, and Catherine answering all those questions. So let’s see.

We do have a couple buckets. We have kind of questions about FeederWatch, we have questions about bird biology and bird ID, and then we have questions about feeding birds. So I thought we’d just start with some of the FeederWatch questions, and then we’ll get into the other ones.

So Kerrie, do you have to watch certain days of the week, or can you pick your own days? And then the other part of that question is, if you are going to be gone for a time of FeederWatch or if you are living in two places over the winter, how does that work for being a FeederWatch participant?

[Kerrie Wilcox] Well, FeederWatch was designed to be really flexible. So you pick your two-date count, like I do mine on weekends because that’s what works for me, but if you miss a week, that’s completely fine, or if you go away on holidays, even if you count once in the season, this is still fantastic little snapshot of the birds in your location.

So you pick how long you spend counting during your two-day count, and then you decide how often you want to repeat your counts. We just ask that you don’t go outside and decide to start a count because you’re seeing lots of birds because this would bias the data. We need everybody to pick their days ahead of time and stick with it.

[Chelsea Benson] And then if there’s halfway through the season, you realize, it’s actually way more convenient if I count on these two days. Is it OK to switch it up partway through as long as you stay consistent?

[Kerrie Wilcox] Yes, that’s fine.

[Chelsea Benson] That’s the one thing I love about FeederWatch is there is a nice data collection protocol, but there is flexibility in how you’re doing it as well. I do see some questions in the Q&A, and then somebody pre-submitted it. So, Emma, people are wondering how FeederWatch is different than eBird, and whether that data is connected. And I guess we should say, for our audience who isn’t familiar with eBird, what eBird is too.

[Emma Greig] Yeah, so eBird is another bird counting program run by the lab. And in eBird, it’s not a seasonal project like FeederWatch. We go from November to April. eBird you can do anytime. FeederWatch, also we have this protocol that everyone follows. And that way all of the FeederWatch counts are comparable to one another.

eBird is much more flexible in what you can submit, but it means that not all of the data can be used in all analyzes because people count in different ways. So if you want to submit counts to FeederWatch and eBird, that is totally fine. All the data are stored sort of in the same database, and they’re all tended to in a similar way.

But because FeederWatch has its special counting protocol, it will always be analyzed separately. So you can submit to both you can submit to just one it’s up to you. You don’t have to worry about double counting or not double counting, if that makes sense.

[Chelsea Benson] Yeah, totally. Kerrie, some people are– I do this on the weekend too. You kind of watch in little chunks throughout the day. How do they record the amount of time, especially if it occurs some in the morning and some in the afternoon? Do you just add it all together? What’s the best way to do that?

[Kerrie Wilcox] Well, the way I participate is I count the birds while I’m having my coffee in the morning, and then maybe again at lunch, I watch my birds a little longer, and I do that throughout the weekend.

So I’m not sitting for an extended period of time watching my feeders. So at the end of the two days just make an estimate of how much time you actually did spend watching the birds. So one to four hours might be an accurate assessment of how long you actually spent watching the feeders.

[Chelsea Benson] Great. And yeah, and those windows are pretty long that you all provide when you enter your data. So yeah, just making an estimate of the amount of time. And then if it’s spanned both AM and PM, you would want to note that you did it in the morning and the afternoon.

[Kerrie Wilcox] Right.

[Chelsea Benson] Kerrie, I did see that people are curious if they can know that there’s a sex difference between a male and a female cardinals. The males are bright red, whereas the females are brown and kind of orangish red. You can clearly see that there’s a male and a female. But in FeederWatch, we’re recommended to count birds all in the same way. So why is that?

[Kerrie Wilcox] Well, some birds are sexually dimorphic, which means you can tell the males and the females apart and then others are not. So we all need to be– we need to be counting the birds all in the same way so that our trend analysis is comparable. If we counted birds that we could tell apart separately, that would really bias our data. We’d be getting way higher counts of sexually dimorphic birds.

So if you see a male cardinal in the morning and you see a female in the afternoon but you never see them at the same time, just record one because you’ve only seen one at a single time. Our protocol is designed to correct for sexually dimorphic birds.

[Chelsea Benson] Yes, there’s science behind it.

[Emma Greig] Even though it’s super the most controversial thing about FeederWatch.

[Chelsea Benson] It is. I get it. It’s one of those things where it’s so obvious, but you can’t tell all birds apart in the same way, and so we’re trying to keep those counts consistent as frustrating as it may be for participants.

Now this is a interesting question. There’s you know advances in technology happening. For instance, the Merlin Bird ID app can do sound ID, some people use like a bioacoustics like a recording thing for their whole yard. And so, Emma, if they’re hearing a bird in this count site, should that be included in the FeederWatch count?

[Emma Greig] Well, the FeederWatch protocol is meant to be birds that you see, and I think that’s because it was started as a winter program where people were counting from inside. So that remains true. If it’s a bird that you only hear and you don’t see it, you shouldn’t really include it on your FeederWatch count. I’m sure some folks will and it’s not the end of the world but, technically, it’s supposed to be birds you see.

[Chelsea Benson] And then what about for people who are using the little– a camera on their feeders, which is really cool?

[Emma Greig] It is super cool. And it might give you a hint about birds that are around, that maybe you didn’t notice during your feeder watch count, but again, the thing that really makes feeder watch a useful data set is that everyone is following the same protocol through time and space.

And so if some folks were using cameras and some folks weren’t, we wouldn’t know if differences in the birds around their home are because of differences in the habitat or because they’re counting in different ways. So this means if you do have a cool camera or a cool sound ID thing, that’s great. And it’s not really something that will fit in with your FeederWatch accounts. Those are better done just with your eyes, looking out your windows or looking in your backyard.

[Chelsea Benson] And if you hear something with Merlin, then try to verify it by finding it.

[Emma Greig] Yeah, right. You could use those things as tools, kind of as supplements to teach you more about what you’ve got around, and be more attuned to it during your FeederWatch count. That’d be OK.

[Chelsea Benson] Absolutely. And then did see some questions like where’s the protocol? So if you’re following on Zoom and YouTube, the FeederWatch website has a link called detailed instructions.

And so we’re going to drop that into the chat, and also for our audience, I’ll be emailing out information after this webinar, and we will include where to find those detailed instructions for counting. So check out that link. It has so many great resources, and it’s hard to– I see we have 203 open questions in Zoom.

[Emma Greig] Gosh. I’m looking at some of them and I want to just be like this, this this, run through and answer them all.

[Chelsea Benson] But it’s amazing. The FeederWatch website, Birds Canada also has a FeederWatch link which we’ll drop in the chat, there’s just so many great resources on those web pages, and a lot of answers to your question because some of the questions are really specific to your site, but you will be able to find good answers on the website.

So we’re watching the birds, but we can’t identify them. We’re just having trouble. There little brown birds, they’re scurrying around, scratching on the ground, trying to find seeds seeds. Kerrie, do you have some advice for what people should do if they’re having trouble identifying a bird, because we’ve all been there?

[Kerrie Wilcox] Well, sometimes it’s just really tricky to identify. We do have a tricky bird page on the website, which is really helpful for those species that are really hard to tell apart because if you’re having trouble you’re probably not the only one. They are really tricky.

The FeederWatch poster has the top 25 birds that come to feeders in winter, and it shows them in their winter plumage, which I find really helpful, and it also shows like a size comparison, so like size.

So chances are the bird in your backyard is going to be one of these 25 species, and I always tell people to snap a photo of the bird so we can tell a lot from where it is in relation is it on the ground, is it on your feeder, these are all great, helpful things for identifying it. And worse comes to worse, send us email with the photo and we’ll–

[Chelsea Benson] Tell us where you’re from. That’s always the other key.

[Kerrie Wilcox] Yes, tell us where you’re from.

[Chelsea Benson] Tell us where you’re from. Very important to narrow down the options. And Kerrie just shared some really great advice, and I wanted to note that we have a common feeder birds poster. And there’s also for our French-Canadian audience, we have the posters that are bilingual in French and English, and so we’ll pop those links into the chat so you can download those common posters, and I’ll email those links out to people tomorrow too. Just super helpful.

I know that you have kids, and helpful for me, I just print them and put them next to the window where I watch. I’ve been doing it a long time, but sometimes you still just need that little visual. And as Kerrie said, you can take a photo and you can use Merlin. You can upload that photo to Merlin, and Merlin, the Bird ID app, which is free, will help you try to identify that bird too.

So there’s lots of amazing tools out there for you to help you learn bird identification. And for Emma, we were just kind of mentioning like sometimes it feels overwhelming when there’s like, let’s say, a flock of blackbirds, comes to the feeder, and they’re just kind of swarming. What is your advice for counting a large flock of birds that might come to your feeder site?

[Emma Greig] Yes, there are two tricks. One is you look at a little area and you say, OK, that’s 10 birds, and then you go, how many little areas are there? And try to extrapolate from that.

The other thing I’ve seen folks do, I wouldn’t have thought of this but feeder watchers thought of it and did it, and I’m like, oh, that’s a great idea, is to snap a photo, and then you can take your time sort of counting all those little black dots on the photograph and get an idea of how many of those grackles are really hanging out in your yard.

[Chelsea Benson] And it’s OK in those instances to estimate as best you can.

[Emma Greig] Absolutely. Absolutely.

[Chelsea Benson] There is a question here about species, birds, and population changes, and whether those changes, whether their decreasing might be due to climate change, and what species are most impacted. Where do we see the most changes happening?

[Emma Greig] Yeah, well, from FeederWatch data, we see some species are increasing, some species are decreasing. It’s hard to give one answer to that because it very much depends on the species and the place.

But I think a lot– what we’ve seen some of the themes that we’ve seen are that species that are more warm adapted like Eastern bluebirds and chipping sparrows and Carolina wrens, those seem to be doing well as the winters become more mild. Also species that are sort of– what’s the word I want to use?

They’re kind of generalists and they’re good at hanging out around people. Some of those types of species seem to be doing well. Others, not so much. Evening grosbeaks are on the decline. Am I right, Kerrie, that Canada Jays are on the decline that’s a very northern– sorry, go ahead.

[Kerrie Wilcox] It’s good to say their range is retracting. So the ones in the southern most part of their range are moving further north. It looks like the range is getting smaller as the winters are getting warmer.

[Emma Greig] Yeah, so we’re learning a lot from FeederWatch data, but it’s just such a big– it’s a very broad question, so hard to know exactly what to say.

[Chelsea Benson] But that’s why it’s important that people are participating and counting and helping us keep track of those changes because it’s not just one general answer. There’s a lot of nuance depending on the species, depending on the region. There’s a lot happening, and so by having all of these feeder watchers across the US and Canada, you’re able to start answering some of those questions.

[Emma Greig] Yeah.

[Chelsea Benson] I did see people are interested to know how many people participate in FeederWatch across Canada and the US.

[Emma Greig] We’re about 30,000 sign up every year now, so it’s really great, yet there are many, many more folks who feed birds and don’t participate. So I’m sure that there are people who would enjoy it, who just haven’t tried it out yet or haven’t known about it, so hopefully we reach a few of those folks or maybe you know neighbors or friends who would enjoy it, so hopefully.

[Chelsea Benson] All right. So another question that I see, pros and cons to bird feeding. And by feeding birds, are we disturbing their natural behavior?

[Emma Greig] Maybe, a little bit sometimes. We probably are. Is that a bad thing? I don’t know. This is always tricky because I think, gosh, as humans, we do a lot of stuff to disrupt the natural– what would be natural, which I guess is whatever doesn’t include humans. But Anna’s hummingbirds are a great example.

Here, this gorgeous little hummingbird is expanding its winter range and really thriving and doing well, and it may be doing that in part because of people keeping hummingbird feeders out throughout the winter in the Pacific Northwest. I don’t know. Is that good or bad? It’s a bird that’s really doing well now. It’s hard to– it’s real hard to put a good, bad on these things.

[Kerrie Wilcox] Sometimes your food during an extreme weather event might be that little boost that they need to get through to survive that extreme cold or ice storm. So in those kind of times, you’re feeding birds is really helpful.

[Emma Greig] Yeah, that’s true.

[Chelsea Benson] We have just a couple of minutes left, and we do have a lot of questions about feeding birds, as far as like what types of food is best? What types of feeders? And I wanted to share a resource from the FeederWatch website, and maybe Emma, if you wouldn’t mind walking people through what is this, and how do they use it?

[Emma Greig] Yeah, this is the common feeder or food and feeder preferences of common feeder birds tool. And what you can do is you click on that View bird list button, and it shows you all these kind of common feeder birds. And then what you have to do is you– well, you can do it in two ways. One, you could click on a species, and then see, OK, what does that species want? So let’s choose one. There we go.

Dark-eyed junco, it shows you their regions. Turns out they’re all over the place. Turns out they’ll eat about anything, and what kind of feeders do they like? Yeah, hoppers, platform, and on the ground. Another–

[Chelsea Benson] Oh, go ahead.

[Emma Greig] Oh, I was going to say the other way you can approach it is maybe what you’re doing, where you choose your region, choose your food type and your feeder type, and then it will show you a list of the birds you’re likely to see based on where you are and what you provide. So you can tackle the question of, what should I feed my birds, or what birds am I likely to see, based on what I’m feeding from two different ways?

[Chelsea Benson] Yeah, it’s just a super helpful resource for people who are struggling with, I really would love to attract a Carolina Wren. What kind of foods do they like? What kind of feeders do they like? Or just what’s the most bang for my buck? What kind of food can I put out that’s going to attract the widest variety of species?

So you can kind of play around on there. It’s meant for the entire North American region, including all of Canada and the United States, so kind of play around on there, and see what you can find.

[Emma Greig] Yeah.

[Chelsea Benson] Yeah, very cool. Oops. Hang on. Let’s see. All right. I think that we are just about out of time. I don’t know how, but one hour, it was just playing around with all those polls. So I want to thank Emma and Kerrie for joining us, and our audience who is incredibly engaged, asking really great questions.

Again go to that website, and you can join if you’re not already signed up because it starts on–

[Emma Greig] I think Wednesday?

[Chelsea Benson] Wednesday, November 1, I just totally shut off. And then, Kerrie, can they use the FeederWatch website for Birds Canada as well? How does that work?

[Kerrie Wilcox] Yes, when you click that Join button, you’re given the option to join for Canada or with Cornell Lab. So whichever country you’re in, pick that and then click Join and FeederWatch is almost entirely supported by its participants.

So for a fee of $18 with Cornell, you can join in the States, and Canadians join by making a donation of whatever amount they choose. And then your contributions cover materials, staff support, data analysis, the year-end report winter bird highlights. So all that information is on the website when you join.

[Chelsea Benson] Yes, and I just– is Alaska covered? Absolutely.

[Emma Greig] Sure is.

[Chelsea Benson] We need more participants in Alaska.

[Emma Greig] Yeah.

[Chelsea Benson] And Northern Canada. I know that we always need more data from our–

[Kerrie Wilcox] Yes, yes.

[Chelsea Benson] So thank you, Kerrie, thank you, Emma, thanks to our attendees. I’m going to be emailing the recording actually by the end of today, lucky you, and get it right away. And some of the resources that we talked about, all those helpful links, downloads to posters, and I just want to thank you for joining us. Best of luck this FeederWatch season.

[Emma Greig] Thanks. This was great fun. I do it– feel like we could have done this for another hour. So many more questions to answer, but next year.

[Chelsea Benson] All right. Thanks Emma, thanks, Kerrie, and everyone have a great day and happy FeederWatching.

[Emma Greig] Thank you. Bye-bye.

[Kerrie Wilcox] Bye. Thank you.

End of transcript

Join Project Feederwatch leaders Emma Greig and Kerrie Wilcox and get ready to observe the birds and nature you see. Whether or not they supply feeders, FeederWatchers build an invaluable database of local winter bird observations every year. This year, participants can track mammals and record behavior, plus so much more! Tune in to the conversation to learn about new features, hear how you can participate, and get answers to your questions about feeders, foods, and the birds that share our spaces.

Feeding birds this winter? Check out these helpful resources: