[View of Cornell FeederWatch Cam bird feeders, then transitions to Chelsea and Emma sitting in chairs]

[Charles] Hello and welcome to our first ever live chat with the Project FeederWatch team here on Cornell Bird Cams. I’m Charles Eldermire, project leader for the cams, and today we’re gonna be learning about the science behind your feeder birds, and answering your questions with help from two people on Project FeederWatch, Emma Greig and Chelsea Benson. 

Emma over here on your right [Emma waves, Charles points to Emma, and Charles laughs] is the project leader of FeederWatch and has been studying bird behavior and ecology for about ten years. First in Australia of all places on fairywrens, which sound awesome. Then in the Sonoran Desert on verdin. And now through the windows of FeederWatchers just like you across the country. 

Uh Chelsea [Chelsea waves] is the project assistant for two different citizen science projects here at the Cornell Lab, Project FeederWatch and Project NestWatch. And she answers thousands of questions a year about backyard birds, bird feeders, nest boxes, and the nesting cycle. 

[Main view changes to bird feeders, with view of Chelsea and Emma in the lower left corner] 

And before coming to the Cornell Lab Chelsea ran an environmental center in New York State’s Hudson Valley. So we truly are sitting here with two uh, we couldn’t ask for two better people to start answering a variety of questions from our viewers [Chelsea and Emma laugh]. Because our viewers, if we know one thing about our viewers it’s that they have questions. 

So, in 1977 you said Project FeederWatch began? 

[Emma] Yeah, that’s when it started. And the inspiration was that there are so many people feeding birds in their backyard. There are fifty million in the U.S. that do it every year.

[Charles] Oh my gosh.

[Emma] So, here are all these eyes watching birds anyway.

[Charles] That’s so awesome.

[Emma] Now you take down a couple of notes, and say what the birds are. And there you have the beginning of a citizen science effort that is now in its 31st year.

[Chelsea, nodding] 31st.

[Charles] Oh my gosh. 

[Emma] And has about 20,000 people in the U.S. and Canada participating every year. 

[Charles] Okay. 

[Emma] Six, I think it’s six million hours of volunteer time so far. which is something like seven or eight human lifetimes have been uh contributed by FeederWatch participants to this effort of monitoring backyard birds. 

It’s amazing. 

[Chelsea] Yeah, it’s really great. And our season is bumping up, we’re gonna start on this Saturday, November 11th is the start of the season. 

So our FeederWatch season runs from November to April every year. Um and so the way that people can participate is they sign up either through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology or through Bird Studies Canada. And they have a really flexible schedule of counting. 

So you pick the days that you want to count. We ask that you pick two days in a row to watch your feeders. And the amount of time you spend watching your feeders is also up to you. 

So you might spend a few, you know 15 minutes here and there throughout the day. Or you might dedicate an hour to, to, to observing your feeders.

[Charles] Okay.

[Chelsea] Um, so you can pick two consecutive days, you could use those same, like Saturday, Sunday every week. Or some people only count every other week, or maybe once a month. Or maybe some people only count a few times a season.

[Charles] Wow.

[Chelsea] So the schedule that you watch is really flexible. Um, and so when you’re watching your backyard birds we ask that you take, it’s the maximum number

[Emma] Mmhmm.

[Chelsea] for each species that you see at one given time. So that prevents you from counting, you know, the same bird over and over. Because we all know chickadees and titmice, they land, they take a seed, they come back, they land, and they leave. 

So if you counted, you know, that seems chickadee over and over and totaled it together, you might have a hundred visits from that chickadee.

[Charles] Right.

[Chelsea] So you wouldn’t have a hundred chickadees.

[Charles] Right.

[Chelsea] So we would say, you know you would say maybe you saw two chickadees at once. And then later in the day you saw four. So that means that your tally for that species would be four. 

[Charles] What then that sounds like a nice rule of thumb that can take a little bit of the complexity out of counting birds,

[Chelsea] Right.

[Charles] I would imagine that, that could probably feel like to, to a non-scientist let’s say, or a non-biologist. The idea that you can actually count all the birds that come to your feeders. It almost seems like a daunting thing.

[Chelsea] Yeah.

[Charles] But it sounds like number one, it’s it’s a flexible thing from FeederWatch’s point of view, you can even figure out what times work for you.

[Chelsea] Mmhmm.

[Charles] And that you have a great protocol in place to actually kind of simplify the counting, is that right? 

[Chelsea] Yeah.

[Emma] That’s right. you actually never can over count if you follow this protocol. Or, by over count I mean, you can never come the same birds twice.

[Chelsea] Right.

[Charles] That’s awesome. 

[Emma] So that’s the whole point of it.

[Charles] And so given that this has been going on for uh, over thirty years, um what do you, what do you point to when people say you know what has this project really accomplished? Or what is it that you guys um, gain from involving so many different people in um, staring at their birds in their backyard?

[Emma] Yeah, it, so. So far there have been about thirty papers that have come out using FeederWatch data on topics ranging from disease spread, house finch eye disease. a lot of folks are familiar with that. To the spread of invasive species across the country, like Eurasian collared-doves. To the creeping of little Anna’s hummingbirds into snowy climates in winter

[Charles] Oh wow.

[Emma] following bird feeders. So these sorts of patterns we’re learning from FeederWatch data because we have eyes all over the place. So you really can see what’s happening over space and through time, because everybody is counting in the same way. 

And that, yeah, it’s just a plethora of different topics that you can investigate using something as simple as bird counts. So it’s really up to, you know, the biologists, or the scientists, or the participants to come up with the questions 

[Chelsea] Mmhmm.

[Emma] that they want to try to 

[Charles] Huh.

[Emma] address with this data set. 

[Charles] And are there, are there new questions that have been sort of like percolating in the last few years that um, maybe are different than the traditional FeederWatch questions that you’ve been trying to address?

[Emma] Yes, there’s a, a whole new slew of them that are coming out because we’ve started now collecting behavioral data.

[Chelsea] Mmhmm.

[Charles] Oh, wow.

[Chelsea] Yeah, it’s really fun.

[Emma] Yeah, and folks see it, you see all the time a bird come and kick another bird off a feeder. And normally, it used to be well, all you can do is count those birds. But now, you can count those interactions too, and keep track of who’s displacing who. 

Who tries to kick another bird off, but fails.

[Charles] Hmm.

[Emma] And then a really good one that sometimes people are lucky enough to see are predation events. 

[Charles] Oh my gosh.

[Emma] I know, and 

[Charles] Yeah.

[Chelsea laughs]

[Emma] they’re so rare, so if you’re just a biologist and you want to study what Cooper’s hawks eat, well you better get ready 

[Charles laughs]

[Emma] to dedicate your life 

[Chelsea laughs]

[Emma] to following Cooper’s hawks around. 

[Charles] Yeah, right.

[Emma] But you know FeederWatchers in one season collected dozens of observations of Cooper haw—Cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawk predation events. 

[Charles] Wow.

[Emma] So you, it only took about a year, maybe it was a year and a half,

[Chelsea] Mmhmm.

[Emma] of collecting behavioral data to start accumulating a really great dataset on a super rare event. 

[Charles] That’s great, and probably most people with feeders aren’t super excited about their birds being eaten by predators.

[Emma] But they should be!

[Charles, Chelsea, and Emma laugh] 

[Charles] Right, it’s an important biological part of being a bird. 

[Emma nods]

[Chelsea] Right.

[Charles] You know there’s always gonna be, there’s often a bigger bird waiting in the, waiting in the wings so to speak. And I, even on our FeederWatch Cam here we actually watched a, this would have been a year and a half ago now we saw a red-tailed hawk swoop in and grab a mink

[Chelsea] Wow!

[Emma looks shocked and puts her hands up]

[Charles] when it was in the garden, which was totally cool.

[Chelsea] Yeah.

[Charles] Um, but it was also like kind of bummer for the mink.

[Chelsea] Yeah, yeah.

[Emma] Right.

[Chelsea] It definitely is hard to watch.

[Charles] You know, there’s two sides.

[Chelsea] It’s not something that, not everybody likes to see, and totally understand that perspective, but from us it’s like a really cool observation

[Emma nods]

[Chelsea] And that we’re collecting a lot of data.

[Charles] Sure.

[Chelsea] And it’s important information to learn, even if sometimes it’s not your happiest FeederWatch moment. 

[Charles] Right, yeah, that’s, that’s the case. And when people are entering this data are they sending you in like notebooks full of information? Or do you have data sheets or something? How does that work? How you, I guess how do you get involved, and how does, how do people get the data that they see to you? 

[Chelsea] Right, so they can sign up through our website which is FeederWatch dot O R G.

[Slide text: Project FeederWatch

HOME ABOUT LEARN COMMUNITY EXPLORE YOUR DATA

Embrace the WINTER. Count Feeder Birds for SCIENCE!

Visit FeederWatch.org today to sign up!

Join, Renew or Donate;

Images: Northern cardinal, white-throated sparrow, bird feeder, and laptop computer]

There’s a join button so, once you join we actually mail you, if you’re joining for the first time we mail you a bunch of information. I brought some of the things we send. 

[Charles] Oh cool.

[Slide text: New FeederWatch Participants Receive:

  • Common Feeder Birds poster
  • FeederWatch Handbook & Instructions booklet
  • Bird-Watching Days Calendar
  • Tally sheet;

Images: Bird-Watching Days calendar with information and photos of various birds, Project FeederWatch posters of common feeder birds for Eastern North America and Western North America, and FeederWatch Handbook & Instructions with a photo of a white-breasted nuthatch at a feeder]

[Chelsea] We send like, a calendar, and poster of common feeder birds 

[Charles] Oh that’s great.

[Chelsea] for eastern and western species. 

[Charles] I love that artwork on that poster, too. 

[Chelsea] Yeah, it’s really beautiful. We send you a handbook with all those questions. And then at the end of the year because you’ve been collecting all this important data for us, we put out 

[Images: Pages from Focus on Citizen Science-Volume 13, Winter Bird Highlights from Project FeederWatch 2016-17 brochure with photos of birds, a thank you message, and Top 25 list of species for the Far North Region]

a summary of the data.

[Charles] Huh, okay.

[Chelsea] Winter bird highlights, so that you really know like your counts are important to us, and we go through all those observations. 

So once you get all that stuff you read through it, we take all our data online. So we used to have these bubble forms that people would send to us, but we’ve had to move to online just because that technology, we can’t really support it anymore at the Lab.

[Image: View of FeederWatch data entry online, showing photos and counts of bird species on the side as well as a list of FeederWatch New York Birds

Text: Check if you watched your feeders but NO BIRDS were present

Waterfowl- Mallard

Grouse, Quail, and Allies- Wild Turkey

Vultures, Hawks, and Allies- Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk

Pigeons and Doves- Rock Pigeon]

So we moved to on, online data entry, which has been a real boon for us because it provides people with information back to them right away. So you can actually go through your own observations, 

[Image: View of Bird Count showing 9 species and 28 individuals total, including a photo and the number of individuals counted for each species]

and pull data from your own backyard.

[Charles] Oh, that’s great. 

[Chelsea] So you get instant feedback about what’s happening in your yard.

[Image: View of page to Explore Distribution Trends for Anna’s Hummingbird with maps for 2017 showing Percent Feeders Visited of total FeederWatch locations by region, and Average Flock Size when present at FeederWatch locations by region]  

Um you can compare your stuff with the uh data from across the country that you can look at. And if you see something rare you, you’ll get a notification, too. 

[Emma] Mmhmm.

[Chelsea] So Emma goes through all the rarer sightings, 

[Image: View of the Cornell Lab/Bird Studies Canada Project FeederWatch Rare Bird Reports page Rare Birds Gallery with various photos of rare birds;

Text: Rare Bird Reports- If you see a rare bird during one of your FeederWatch counts, attach a photo with your report, and it will automatically be displayed here once the report is confirmed. If you see a rare bird on a non-count day and you would like to share a photo of the bird, please use the Participant Photo Gallery]

and reports back to people about like yeah, you really did see that bird here, and then we can kind of promote that stuff, too.

[Charles] That’s awesome. 

[Chelsea] So people usually keep track on a piece of paper, you know, at their FeederWatch area, and then after their two-day count they’ll go to our website and they’ll enter their observations there.

[Charles] Cool, um we were talking a little bit about what it um,

[Video returns to Feeder Cam with view of Chelsea and Emma in the corner. Two American goldfinches are at the feeders]

what it took to join FeederWatch. 

[Chelsea] Mmhmm.

[Charles] You just showed us the great posters and stuff. Um, is there anything else you’d sort of like, I guess. When people are thinking about joining, let’s say they’re on the fence. What are the, are there reasons that you’ve heard from maybe new FeederWatchers, old FeederWatchers 

[Chelsea] Mmm.

[Charles] that sort of helped them make the decision whether or not they decided ultimately to join Project FeederWatch? Are there other things like, like rewarding things 

[Chelsea] Mmm.

[Charles] that your audience has really gotten out of it that the audience that’s listening right now may not actually be aware of? 

[Emma] Yeah, I think one of the things that we hear a lot from people who have been FeederWatchers, sometimes even for just a year or two, 

[Chelsea] Mmhmm. 

[Emma] is that they just feel like they have learned so much about the birds in their backyard. Because, we’re always encouraging repeated counts. And so, just by doing it, just by trying to FeederWatch, you’re sort of forced to get familiar with the species that you have. 

So you can’t help but learn about them.

[Chelsea] Mmhmm. 

[Emma] And I think that’s one of the best things about the program, and what really causes people to enjoy it a lot. 

[Charles] And do you find that, do you find that you reach a wide audience of people? Like is this something that just sort of one kind of person tends to do? Or you do you have sort of, what would be a description of the kind of people that do participate in FeederWatch? 

[Chelsea] Well, I think it’s hard to have like one description

[Charles] Great.

[Chelsea] because we have so, such a wide variety of people that participate. Um, really the project is for people of all ages. So I know a lot of families participate. 

[Charles] Oh, great. 

[Chelsea] So they might do it on the weekend with their kids to help learn some of their feeder visitors. Or we even have classrooms that participate at schools, we have nature centers. Um, and then you know, people like Emma and myself that just have like a couple feeders out the window, and just do it in our spare time. 

So it’s really a diverse group of people. So it’s hard to just have one description for a typical FeederWatcher. 

[Charles] Right on, and I mean full disclosure I’ve done FeederWatch in the past, and done it with my kids. So some of these questions I, I kind of know the answer to, 

[Chelsea laughs]

[Charles] and out there I bet our audience realizes that. But um, from from my personal perspective, you know, it’s a really great thing to uh, I think as Emma said especially, to actually just watch those birds over and over again

[Chelsea] Mmhmm.

[Charles] because they are a part of just the fabric of our yards and our parks, and the more we get to know them the more it kind of feels like this familiar um, you know, patchwork surrounding us that we get to interact with over time. So um, I really enjoyed my time FeederWatching. 

Um, so you guys probably get some classic questions from FeederWatchers over the years, or maybe even every season. 

[Chelsea laughs] 

[Charles] And you already sort of touched on one, which is how do you know you’re not counting the same birds over and over? But I don’t know if you want to like maybe go over that one more time, like how do people actually know that they’re not counting the same birds over and over again, or are they? Like, how does that counting work again? 

[Emma] Yeah, yeah the number you write down is the most of each species that you see simultaneously. 

[Feeder Cam: One goldfinch flies off the feeder and out of view]

So, if you see three cardinals one day, and then the next day, your second day of counting you see five cardinals. do you write eight cardinals? 

[Chelsea and Charles laugh]

[Emma] No.

[Chelsea and Charles laugh]

[Emma] You write five cardinals. Because that was the most you ever saw at once, and you can’t necessarily tell them apart.

[Charles] Yeah.

[Emma] So that’s, that’s why.

[Charles] It’s just count the most that you see at any one time.

[Chelsea] And they don’t necessarily have to be at the feeder, that’s a misconception.

[Charles] Ah, okay.

[Chelsea] So they can be in your count site area, which might include if you have bird baths, if you have trees and shrubs, and even feeding on the ground. So it’s the area around your feeders too that you have birds, because not all birds are gonna land on your feeder and eat. 

You will often have the predatory birds that we’re monitoring now, 

[Feeder Cam: Second goldfinch flies off feeder and out of view]

and then also like tag along birds that are just there because there’s, it’s social. There’s a lot going on, and they’re there to see what’s happening.

[Emma] Yeah.

[Chelsea laughs]

[Charles] Sure, it’s kind of like, you know, you may not be into the party scene, 

[Chelsea and Emma laugh]

[Charles] but you still kind of go to the party to see who’s there, see what people are wearing.

[Chelsea] Maybe a little bit of a wallflower, it’s okay. Yeah, yeah.

[Charles] So what would be, is there an example of a species that’s like a wallflower bird 

[Chelsea] Mmm.

[Charles] that comes to mind? In your, you know I’m kind of putting you on the spot, but uh…

[Chelsea] Yeah.

[Emma] No, I feel like kinglets are often little wallflowers. They’re often not actually eating at the feeders

[Chelsea] That’s right, yeah.

[Emma] but they’re hopping through in the shrubbery.

[Charles] Uh-huh. 

[Emma] They’ll take suet now and then, but 

[Charles] Okay.

[Emma] uh that’s a good one. And kinglets can be real puzzles for folks, too. They’re so…

[Chelsea] Uh, they’re hard to identify. 

[Emma] Totally.

[Chelsea laughs] 

[Emma] A little ruby-crowned kinglet. Oh you think well, that will have a real conspicuous color patch, but they don’t cuz they hide them.

[Charles] Ah.

[Emma] So it just looks like the most drab little green thing you’ve ever seen, but, anyway.

[Charles and Emma laugh]

[Charles] But they love hanging around. 

[Emma] Yeah [laughs].

[Charles] Well, and so you’ve touched on some like really interesting sounding birds like ruby-crowned kinglets, even the chickadees and things that come to the feeders, but what about birds like house sparrows? Or just like what people think of as normal birds? Like, is it worth even counting those birds, or like if I have a feeder that only has those birds coming to it, like is it worth joining FeederWatch to tell you I have a bunch of house sparrows that eat all my, and pigeons.

[Chelsea] Frustrating [laughs].

[Charles] Is that the sort of thing that FeederWatch is interested in?

[Chelsea] Yeah, definitely. We want to know about those like everyday common birds are really the heart of our dataset, and are really important. And this year, you [pointing to Emma] can probably speak to it a little bit better, but there’s an undergraduate student who is looking at house sparrow populations 

[Emma] Mmhmm.

[Charles] Hmm.

[Chelsea] and finding that that on the whole they’re on the decline.

[Charles] Oh interesting.

[Chelsea] And, there, so we’re looking, using FeederWatch data, so we often think that house sparrows are just ubiquitous, they’re everywhere, there’s too many of them. But their populations are actually declining, and we’re using our data to figure out why that might be. And it’s not always in the same, like it’s not like a city thing, or a country thing.

[Charles] It’s sort of across the board. 

[Emma] Yeah, and that brings up a really good point. So we’re showing with FeederWatch data that house sparrows are in decline. That means not only is it valuable to report when you have house sparrows, but it’s also valuable to report when you don’t.

[Chelsea] Right.

[Charles] Right.

[Emma] You can’t show a decline if you don’t have an increase in the zeros

[Charles] Right.

[Emma] as you go through time.

[Charles] Right.

[Emma] So all of the counts are valuable, even if you did a FeederWatch and you saw no birds one day. I don’t know if we’ve ever gotten a count like that, 

[Charles laughs]

[Emma] but it would be totally useful.

[Charles] Yeah. I can imagine if your normal count day was like during an ice storm or something and the birds were all just [whistle], you know, that’s the sort of thing that could happen. 

[Chelsea] Yeah, we do ask people to record weather when they’re watching,

[Charles] Okay.

[Chelsea] to take into account, you know, temperature, precipitation, and things like that. 

[Charles] Okay, well, and sort of, I think you sort of touched on this, but we got a question from, um, via email from someone named Nan. And she was saying that she had three feeders around her house

[Chelsea] Mmm.

[Charles] that attract different birds, and she wanted to know could she total them together for a single site entry? You know, would that count as an entire FeederWatch area, or how does, how do you take into account multiple feeder maybe locations on, on an individual property?

[Emma] I think you could still do it as long as you, you know, you’ve got three feeders you see a couple cardinals at each one, if you added up those cardinals I think that would be wrong,

[Charles] Right.

[Emma] because a cardinal could move from one to the other. 

[Chelsea] Right.

[Emma] But if you still follow the, the mantra of the most I see at one time

[Charles] Uh-huh.

[Emma] then I think that would still be fine

[Chelsea] Mmhmm.

[Emma] to be peeking out different windows around your house.

[Charles] Okay.

[Emma] The way I like to think about it is you, at the end of your count you want to be able to say I know for sure I have at least this many whatever species around my yard. And, and if you can say that about it, then you’ve got it.

[Charles] Great. That’s a good, that’s a good answer. And similarly, a different person named Brigitte asked us about the use of almost technology.

[Chelsea] Mmm.

[Charles] So they have a bird, uh a bird motion-activated camera that they place 

[Chelsea] Oh cool.

[Charles] by their feeders.

[Chelsea and Emma laugh]

[Charles] They leave it out all day, and it snaps images any time it detects movement.

[Chelsea] Right.

[Charles] So can she use those images captured by her photo booth to do a feeder count? Can she count, can she basically use that, that observation, and say that that’s a FeederWatch count?

[Chelsea] I think that what might be missing from that is she’s not gonna see any of your ground-feeding birds probably aren’t gonna get caught on the camera, or anything outside of that one single camera.

[Charles] Gotcha.

[Chelsea] So I think that it probably wouldn’t give us a big enough picture of what’s happening at that count site. I think that 

[Emma] Mmhmm.

[Chelsea] technology is really great, um and maybe will help you understand like maybe the diversity of species that are visiting. And if you’re having trouble identifying certain birds 

[Charles] Yeah.

[Chelsea] it will help you practice 

[Charles] Sure.

[Chelsea] identifying them. but I don’t know if I would rely on that as single piece of technology for a count.

[Feeder Cam: Downy woodpecker flies in and lands on feeder] 

[Charles] Well, I mean.

[Chelsea] I think it would be better to couple it with your observations.

[Charles] Right, and I think, you know, Emma you had mentioned about how zeroes are important. And if you can’t see the ground to see the juncos foraging or something like that, that zero for your count 

[Chelsea] Right.

[Charles] would be reflecting potentially the wrong information. You’d be saying there were zero juncos

[Chelsea] Right.

[Charles] but there actually are juncos at your house. So that’s, that’s a really good, that’s a, I like the way you frame that in terms of it only gives you one piece of the view that we would, you’d normally get from a FeederWatch site.

[Chelsea] Mmhmm.

[Charles] Um so Marie wrote in over email that uh she’s a 10-year participant in FeederWatch. Thank You, Marie!

[Emma] Thank you.

[Chelsea] Awesome.

[Charles, Emma, and Chelsea laugh]

[Charles] She says sadly this year we have found at least two goldfinches with eye disease

[Chelsea] Mmm.

[Charles] dead in our yard. And that her goldfinch numbers have been really low. But the house finches, who we know used to, or at least used to be more commonly seen with eye disease, seem to be healthy. And she cleans her feeders twice a week. Do you guys have any information about goldfinches’ eye disease, whether it’s on the rise, that sort of thing? 

[Emma] Well we know that it’s starting to occur, and we have just, um is it this year or last year? Added

[Chelsea] We added it, mmhmm.

[Feeder Cam: Downy woodpecker looks around, then moves to a different feeder]

[Emma] monitoring, um eye disease in goldfinches to the FeederWatch protocol, so that we can answer that very question of is it on the rise? 

[Feeder Cam: Downy woodpecker starts feeding at the feeder]

It’s not super prevalent yet, but I think we might have gotten that part of the data entry

[Charles] Just in time, huh?

[Emma] in just in time to be able to catch it as it starts.

[Charles] Wow.

[Emma] And it sort of makes sense, what she’s observing. House finches have already gone through the process of getting eye disease 

[Chelsea] Mmm.

[Emma] and it’s spread 

[Chelsea] Right.

[Emma] and it’s reached an equilibrium in house finches. If it’s just now starting to affect goldfinches then it makes sense that it might be really virulent in them, and so that may be why she’s observing deaths in that species.

[Charles] Uh-huh.

[Emma] Because they haven’t really had time to figure out how to cope with it yet.

[Charles] Right.

[Emma] That’s my guess.

[Charles] Right. so this is an emerging,

[Chelsea] That’s right.

[Charles] emerging, um zoonosis that is uh, that you guys are actually gathering data about in real time basically right now, which is really cool.

[Emma] Yeah.

[Charles] Um, I didn’t know about that. That’s great. Um, we had a question from one person that um, who lives in a housing association that doesn’t actually allow 

[Feeder Cam: Woodpecker moves to another feeder and starts feeding]

feeders,

[Chelsea] Mmhmm.

[Charles] but they do allow bird baths, and she has plants in her yard that attract birds. Um would that be something they would be eligible for a FeederWatch 

[Feeder Cam: Woodpecker flies away]

site?

[Chelsea] Yeah, definitely. Um, you don’t have to—I mean it seems counterintuitive, it is FeederWatch,

[Emma and Charles laugh]

[Chelsea] but if, you know, what we’re looking at is, you know, the distribution abundance of winter birds, and so we want to know, you know, what. You can have a bird bath, you can have, you know, trees and shrubs that have fruits and seeds that they forage at.

[Charles] Mmhmm.

[Chelsea] So yeah, you definitely don’t have to have your traditional feeder 

[Charles] Bird feeder.

[Chelsea] out, you can have alternate. Um, and you know if she’s in a warm climate, she could try nectar feeders, too.

[Emma] Yeah.

[Chelsea] Often they don’t attract some of the pests that people are concerned about, um. 

[Feeder Cam: Downy woodpecker lands on feeder and moves around on it]

[Charles] Well that’s a great actual segue into a few questions from our broader cams audience

[Chelsea] Mmhmm.

[Feeder Cam: Downy woodpecker looks around, then flies to another feeder and begins feeding]

[Charles] about, about feeders in general, and feeding birds.

[Chelsea] Sure.

[Charles] Sort of transitioning away from just sort of the more FeederWatch-specific questions

[Chelsea] Yeah.

[Charles] into more general questions. But we actually got a number of different questions about what I’ll put into the category of pests, or things you don’t want at your feeders 

[Chelsea] Sure [laughs].

[Charles] anyway. Some of them you really don’t want probably at your feeders, some of them are just mat—it’s more of a matter of preference. 

[Chelsea] Okay.

[Charles] But um, a couple of people asked about rats. Rats as well as skunks, raccoons. 

[Chelsea] Mmm.

[Charles] We have Elizabeth on email,

[Chelsea looks at Emma and laughs]

[Charles] we had Liz on email, Cheri on email asking about rats, cats, skunks, raccoons.

[Chelsea and Emma laugh]

[Chelsea] Man, the whole gambit of wildlife.

[Chelsea and Emma laugh]

[Charles] And so these are things that people would say traditionally they don’t want at our feeders at all, right.

[Chelsea] Right.

[Charles] And so is there anything, if you think about these things as nuisances, let’s say, do you have recommendations for people when it comes to their feeders, and the fact that um they can attract 

[Chelsea] Sure.

[Charles] uh, non-desirable wildlife to your yard that aren’t even birds for this matter, right?

[Chelsea] Right.

[Emma] Mmhmm.

[Chelsea, to Emma] Do you wanna start this one, I’ll try to come in if I think of anything to add [laughs].

[Emma] Okay, yeah, yeah. Um, let’s see. Well, so there are 

[Feeder Cam: Woodpecker flies away]

different feeders that you can purchase that have baffles, or deterrents built into them to try to prevent things like squirrels or heavy creatures. This also applies to large birds that sometimes folks don’t want, like 

[Charles] Yeah.

[Emma] jays or blackbirds. Those can work as a deterrent for a lot of things like that. For stuff like raccoons, and skunks, and rats, um sometimes what’s attracting them is seed that’s on the ground 

[Chelsea] Mmhmm, yeah.

[Charles] Yeah.

[Emma] and so trying, if if you really don’t want those animals, or well rats, I guess nobody wants rats, 

[Charles] Right.

[Emma] but skunks are so cool.

[Charles] They are.

[Chelsea laughs]

[Charles] Until you get sprayed.

[Chelsea] Yeah, right.

[Emma] Well, be careful.

[Charles, Emma, and Chelsea laugh]

[Emma] Um, but just keeping your feeding area tidy, um can really help with that. Making sure that where you store your seed in the garage, 

[Charles] Mmhmm.

[Emma] don’t just leave a plastic bag in the corner.

[Chelsea] Mmhmm.

[Emma] Put it in a metal bin that creatures can’t get into, and that’ll help with rodents and things like that, um.

[Chelsea] Sometimes it helps to bring your feeders in at night.

[Emma] Oh yeah.

[Charles] Mmm.

[Chelsea] So if you’ve got some night marauders like raccoons out there, you can bring your seed in, that will help. And I know that with rats, usually we ask people to take their feeders down for a couple weeks.

[Charles] Huh.

[Chelsea] Because once they find a food source, and this can apply to a lot of other wildlife, they are gonna come back to it over and over 

[Emma] Yeah.

[Chelsea] repeatedly, especially if it’s always there.

[Charles] Yeah.

[Chelsea] So if you take it, you disrupt that cycle, they find another food source somewhere else, hopefully they’ve forgotten,

[Emma and Charles laugh]

[Chelsea] but you never know, they might come back. But what you can also do is you can create some kind of catching system, so that it’s catching the seed that’s falling from your feeder, um but you know you just can’t have the catch system out then because then you’ve basically got a platform feeder created [laughs].

[Charles] Yeah.

[Chelsea] So you have to put some kind of cage around it that animals can’t get into. So it’s catching falling seed into some kind of like cage device, so that animals can’t get into that seed on the ground. 

[Charles] Yeah, I mean I know that

[Chelsea] It’s tricky.

[Charles] yeah.

[Chelsea] It really is and it, it requires some creative problem-solving. And we have lots of tips from FeederWatchers about what works

[Charles] That’s awesome.

[Chelsea] and doesn’t work for them.

[Charles] And those are on your website?

[Chelsea] Yes, 

[Charles] Okay.

[Chelsea] we do have tips from FeederWatchers on our website.

[Charles] Okay.

[Chelsea] Yeah.

[Charles] And I know for me we’ve had a long-standing uh skunk. Um, and they are super cute.

[Chelsea laughs]

[Charles] We have families of skunks that come to our feeders, and, and one thing that I think helped make them move on this year is we actually removed a lot of the places where they could like easily take shelter.

[Emma] Oh.

[Chelsea] Oh, good idea. 

[Charles] So we have a little shed, you know, that they used to be able to run under, and I just put fencing around the bottom part of that. I think similar to birds, putting out shelter near your feeder 

[Chelsea] Mmhmm.

[Charles] for example, 

[Chelsea] Right.

[Charles] often can attract birds over. I think denying them that shelter maybe has helped as well. 

[Emma] Yeah.

[Charles] Um, thinking specifically about squirrels, which are sort of, you know, like some people love the squirrels, some people hate them. They’re not quite in the category of skunks,

[Chelsea laughs]

[Charles] although some people do love them, like Emma.

[Chelsea and Emma laugh]

[Charles] But what do you recommend people do about squirrels? How do you keep squirrels from eating at a bird feeder? Beth on Twitter, as well as um Henry on email, both asked like is there a kind of feeder I can buy?

[Chelsea and Emma nod]

[Charles] Or a deterrent I can use? Um is there anything that you guys have found to be particularly effective against squirrels?

[Chelsea] Well, I think putting baffles. If you have, if you can put a pole feeder up and put a baffle on it, whether it’s a cone baffle or like a stovepipe baffle.

[Charles] This would be something like on the pole?

[Emma] Mmhmm.

[Chelsea] Right, but you also need to place that feeder away from an area where the squirrels can jump.

[Charles] Yeah.

[Chelsea] So it does no good to have a baffled feeder that’s right next to a tree. 

[Charles] Right [laughs].

[Chelsea] Because then they just climb the tree and jump from the top.

[Charles] Right.

[Chelsea] So that’s one way. You can purchase a feeder that has like Emma described, a closing mechanism, so if something heavy lands on it, it closes the feeding ports.

[Charles] Mmm.

[Chelsea] So that the squirrel can’t actually get to them. Some people devise like ways to string their feeders 

[Emma] Mmhmm.

[Chelsea] across like a long distance, and then have a baffle over top. So even if the squirrel can climb the line, they often have a hard time getting around that baffle to jump down to the feeder. 

[Charles] Okay.

[Chelsea] So there’s a lot of different tactics, and sometimes it takes trial and error, unfortunately, to figure out what works best 

[Charles] Yeah, I always.

[Chelsea] for your squirrels, because it seems like everybody’s squirrels have different [laughs]

[Charles] Right, different skill sets, right.

[Chelsea] Different waiting approaches, yeah. 

[Charles] I always tell my mother, who has issues with squirrels, you know squirrels have nothing to do all day long. Like 24 hours a day they try and devise ways 

[Chelsea] Right [laughs].

[Charles] to get to your feeders.

[Emma] Yeah, that’s true [laughs].

[Charles] So like, if you wanna spend that much time, you’ll probably beat them eventually,

[Chelsea and Emma laugh]

[Charles] but, you know, I don’t think we’re that motivated. 

[Chelsea and Emma laugh]

[Charles] Um, and Henry I think it was actually asked specifically what we have down here on the FeederWatch Cam.

[Chelsea] Mmm.

[Charles] As I look out the window, we have both stovepipe-style baffles, which are the sort of the cylindrical baffles on the poles, and then we also have the, um, what do you call those? Cone baffles?

[Chelsea] Yeah, cone baffles.

[Emma] Mmhmm.

[Charles] Above those, um and then the biggest problem with, in the FeederWatch garden is that there’s a lot of trees.

[Chelsea] Right.

[Charles] So they sited it, you know, four years ago when this started we sited it in a place where the squirrels couldn’t get to it, but the trees continue to grow

[Chelsea laughs]

[Charles] and the squirrels continue to be nice and healthy, and jumping on to it from a distance.

[Chelsea laughs]

[Charles] Um, let’s see. Moving on from the mammals, 

[Chelsea] Mmm.

[Charles] you know there’s also what people think of as desirable birds. You mentioned big birds. 

[Emma] Mmhmm.

[Charles] You know, some people will group into that big bird category sparrows, grackles, starlings, 

[Chelsea and Emma nod]

[Chelsea] Mmhmm.

[Charles] blackbirds. Are there strategies people can use to, um to preferentially have different birds than those coming to their feeders? Or sort of like de-incentivize their feeders to those groups of birds? 

[Emma] Yeah. A lot of those birds, sparrows and blackbirds and jays they, um like platforms or ground feeding often.

[Chelsea] Mmhmm.

[Emma] So sometimes just doing something simple like putting, using tube feeders instead of something nice and flat

[Charles] Mmhmm.

[Emma] could potentially help with that. Um, [to Chelsea] what other things do people do to keep those guys away? 

[Chelsea] I know for, for suet you can buy the suet cages where there’s like a roof over top and the suet block’s on the bottom. 

[Charles] Mmhmm.

[Chelsea] So in order to get to the suet, unlike a jay that might just sit there and hang on the side of a suet cage, they can’t actually cling underneath like a nuthatch or a woodpecker could. 

[Charles] Hmm.

[Chelsea] So it’s really a, a style of feeder that’s meant for clinging birds that like suet, as opposed to the blackbirds, and the starlings and grackles, and jays and things like that.

[Charles] Okay.

[Chelsea] Uh-huh, so that.

[Charles] Yeah, we actually had a question about what kind of suet feeder to put out there, so Sarah wrote in on email, and that’s, that’s great.

[Chelsea laughs]

[Emma] Yeah.

[Charles] We actually have used that in the, um, because in the, in the FeederWatch garden we have a suet feeder that’s basically, you’re able to stand on a platform

[Chelsea] Mmhmm.

[Charles] and then reach it if you’re a big bird like a grackle.

[Chelsea] Mmhmm.

[Emma] Oh yeah.

[Charles] So sometimes if we have grackle infestations we’ll take that down, and put a hanging 

[Chelsea] Mmhmm.

[Charles] suet feeder up there for that very reason. Um, and the, and the starlings, or the uh grackles have a very hard time with that. Um…

[Chelsea] I don’t think we answered like the house sparrow question very well.

[Charles] Yeah.

[Emma] Oh yeah.

[Chelsea] You could switch out your food source, you could try like nyjer seed,

[Emma] Mmhmm.

[Chelsea] or fruits and things like that. Um, some people have had success putting like a halo system around. So you have like a wire circle around the top of your feeder, and then like streamers.

[Charles] Oh.

[Chelsea] You don’t want to use fishing line because 

[Charles] People get.

[Chelsea] they could get tangled in it.

[Charles] Yeah.

[Chelsea] But usually like, like some kind of streamer, or um a thin metal with like washers at the end. Um, and some, I also had some FeederWatchers write in that below the perches on their feeders they were taking string and metal washers, and hanging it below the perches.

[Charles] Huh.

[Chelsea] And it was effective.

[Emma] Yeah.

[Chelsea] I’m not sure the science behind why that is effective.

[Emma] Me neither [laughs].

[Chelsea] And so again, like with the squirrels, it might take some trial and error as far as trying different foods, trying maybe like this halo, it’s on our website. I think it’s in the tips for FeederWatchers or on our blog.

[Charles] Okay.

[Chelsea] You can look for, you know, different methods, but again there’s no 

[Emma laughs] 

[Chelsea] one right answer, unfortunately.

[Charles, Emma, and Chelsea laugh]

[Chelsea] We wish!

[Emma] Just move!

[Charles, Emma, and Chelsea laugh]

[Charles] Just move to a place with different birds, right? Well, we’re about 40 minutes into this hour, in part thanks to our technical glitches 

[Chelsea laughs]

earlier. If we don’t make it through all your questions today, we’ll try and answer a few of them, uh whatever is left on Twitter, just so everybody knows. If you’re just coming in right now, we’re sitting with Emma Greig and Chelsea Benson from Project FeederWatch, and we’re going through a bunch of questions from our listeners, and [laughs] I feel like I’m on the radio because we’re not on video right now, but um, from our cam viewers that have been sent in over the last week.

So one question we got, we had a couple of people asking about robins.

[Chelsea] Mmm.

[Charles] They want to have more robins in their yards. And uh, one person wrote in that they actually had robins visiting their mealworm feeder.

[Emma] Mmhmm.

[Chelsea] Cool.

[Charles] And they wanted to know whether or not that was common. So from your point of view, do robins tend to come to feeders with mealworms on them? 

[Emma] Mmhmm, they sure do. Yep, they love fruit and insects, and it’s becoming more common.

[Chelsea] Yeah.

[Charles] Ahh.

[Emma] Robins seem to be spending more, more and more robins seem to be spending their winters further and further north.

[Chelsea] Right.

[Charles] Okay.

[Emma] Um, so yeah, yeah. Now’s the time to be watching for them. And putting out mealworms or dried fruit is a great way to get them to come to your yard.

[Charles] Okay, so Lisa on email that wrote us in, sounds like mealworms, dried fruit.

[Emma and Chelsea nod]

[Chelsea] Mmhmm.

[Charles] Fresh fruit?

[Emma] Sure.

[Charles] Do they eat fresh fruit?

[Chelsea] Yeah, they could. And then even like heated bird baths are a good way to attract 

[Emma] Yeah.

[Charles] Oh.

[Chelsea] some species that you might not consider feeder, feeder visitors.

[Charles] Okay.

[Emma] Yeah.

[Chelsea] They could try that, too.

[Charles] That’s cool. And, and we had a question about peanut butter. Is peanut butter safe to be putting out on a feeder, or putting out for birds?

[Emma nods]

[Chelsea] Yeah, it is. Yeah. Um there’s been no reports of it, you know birds like, I think the worry is that they’re gonna choke because it’s so sticky. If you are worried about that you can mix 

[Feeder Cam: American goldfinch lands on a feeder and begins feeding]

a little like cornmeal in there, give it a little gritty

[Charles] Uh-huh.

[Chelsea] texture. Um but yeah, we haven’t had any reports of it being harmful for birds.

[Charles] Nice. Well here on the East Coast we’re getting close to lunchtime, I don’t know peanut butter and cornmeal?

[Emma laughs]

[Chelsea] Mmm!

[Emma and Chelsea laugh]

[Charles] Sounds good right now, right? Let’s see here. Um a couple questions about, well sticking on this dried fruit idea, um one, one person Brigitte wrote in on Twitter wondering about dried fruit has, a lot of dry fruit has sulfur dioxide on it, which is, I think a preservative. Um, is anything known about whether or not that’s safe to feed to birds? Does sulfur dioxide affect them in any way?

[Emma] Like so many preservatives and additives to food, we don’t have good scientific studies saying here is the effect of different quantities of this stuff on birds, so we really don’t know for sure. But that’s why generally our recommendation is not to offer those sorts of foods if you can help it. That said, in tiny doses occasionally most of that stuff is surely harmless. But you don’t want to. 

[Charles] You don’t know.

[Chelsea] Yeah.

[Emma] Yeah, we just don’t know, so it’s better to be safe, and find stuff that doesn’t have that in it.

[Chelsea] Yep, if you can find an alternative that’s the best course of action.

[Charles] Yeah.

[Emma] Yeah.

[Charles] It’s always, it’s always amazing how much of those things wind up in the food that you think doesn’t have anything in it.

[Chelsea] Yeah.

[Charles] Especially like dried fruit, you expect it to just be fruits.

[Chelsea] Yeah, it’s just a raisin [laughs].

[Emma and Charles laugh]

[Charles] Well, um, a couple people pointed out that um, and this kind of goes back to the blue jays and the grackles and things,

[Chelsea] Mmm.

[Charles] but it could be other ones. That they have some bully birds, or that they have birds that are um being mean to other birds. And I wondered if you guys um had any recommendations either for bully birds, or maybe some insight into what they’re seeing out there or?

[Emma] Um, well I guess in terms of [clears throat], those bully birds tend to be jays and grackles, and these larger things that we sort of already talked about trying to deter. Um, I can’t remember how we said to deter them [laughs], but we said something.

[Chelsea] Different feeder options.

[Emma] Different feeder options, thanks, yeah.

[Charles] Right.

[Emma] Um, but what they’re witnessing, what they’re observing we’re starting to get a better understanding of because of behavioral interactions 

[Charles] Ah, right.

[Emma] that we’re letting people submit now.

[Chelsea] Mmhmm.

[Emma] And, it turns out these bully birds, it’s not just our misconception or an illusion, some of these groups really are more aggressive than you would expect for their body size.

[Charles] Huh.

[Emma] Yeah, they really are tough cookies.

[Charles] Is this something coming from the data that you guys have collected?

[Chelsea] Mmhmm. 

[Emma] Yeah, exactly.

[Chelsea, to Emma] What was the interesting um, like the triangle of interaction?

[Emma] That was really, yeah. So most, if you take the, all of the um behavioral interactions that FeederWatchers collected over the past couple of years, and you say okay, what kind of a dominance hierarchy is there across the continent? Which is amazing that we can do that,

[Charles] Yeah.

[Emma] so thank you FeederWatchers

[Chelsea, Emma, and Charles laugh]

[Emma] for collecting that data. and this is all work that Elliot Miller, a postdoc here at the Lab is really spearheading. It’s, overall the hierarchy is linear. So there’s bird at the top, and a bird at the bottom, and 

[Chelsea] Right.

[Emma] it’s just a line.

[Chelsea] That bully.

[Emma] Yeah. But there are these interesting um, I think they’re called nonlinearities, every now and then where species A will be dominant to species B, species B will be dominant to species C, and then species C will be dominant to species A.

[Chelsea] Right.

[Charles] That’s weird.

[Chelsea] Yeah.

[Emma] It’s so weird. So there’s a little hint that this might be the case between starlings, red-headed woodpeckers, and red-bellied woodpeckers.

[Charles] Huh.

[Emma] We need more data to confirm, but that’s a hint from the data so far. And the idea is that maybe these nonlinearities help these species co—

.

[Charles] I’m gonna shift gear, we have about 15 minutes left. Um, still dealing with some questions. We had some questions about, um, window strikes, and tips for placing feeders. So thinking about um, feeder activity, where you should put your feeders, and then how do you stop birds from running into your windows? Um, so I don’t know if you guys have any thoughts from, from your end of the building about these issues? 

[Chelsea] Well I think that, we here at the Lab we have a netting over the big window near the feeders, and that prevents the birds, if they do come toward the window they’ll hit the net first instead of the glass, and it softens that.

[Charles] Mmhmm.

[Chelsea] And then they, you know, are able to, to escape without casualty. Um, so if you have a window that’s really problematic, then you might want to consider putting up some kind of netting or screen even, leave your screen in,

[Charles] Yeah, that’s what we do for the winter,

[Chelsea] in your glass. 

[Charles] for our feeder-facing window, which is always a bummer, but.

[Chelsea] Yeah, yeah it’s really about breaking up that reflection. And so there’s different things you can do. I know that um the American Bird Conservancy recommends some kind of like stripes

[Charles] Mmhmm.

[Chelsea] they’ve found to be the most effective way to prevent window stripe, strikes. Um and they, they sell a product, I’m not really sure.

[Charles] I think it’s called bird tape. 

[Chelsea] Bird tape.

[Charles] Yeah, we actually used some of that over on campus after some of the red-tailed hawks ran into a bus shelter over there. Um so if you, if you drive through the center of Cornell campus 

[Chelsea] Mmm.

[Charles] you’ll see two bus shelters conspicuously sticking out with bird tape on them.

[Chelsea] Oh cool.

[Charles] In a nice pattern. 

[Chelsea] Yeah, of course.

[Charles] Yeah, so so far that’s been working.

[Feeder Cam: Goldfinch flies away]

[Chelsea] Yeah, and so it also like, if your feeders are pretty close to the window that generally is, I mean there’s no, again it’s like hard to like say definite, but like it generally prevents them from getting a lot of momentum

[Charles] Uh-huh.

[Chelsea] coming at your window.

[Charles] Gotcha.

[Chelsea] Um so, and then obviously if they’re pretty far away it’s the same thing. They are far enough away that they’re hopefully not gonna come towards your windows. So it’s finding that sweet spot, hopefully breaking up that reflection for your windows.

[Charles] Okay.

[Emma] Yeah.

[Charles] And thinking about feeders, and uh when to feed, 

[Chelsea] Mmm.

[Charles] you know some people are really worried, um we had Tom and Cathy write in over email that they usually feed the birds all year, but they’re gonna be away for a couple of months this spring, 

[Chelsea] Mmm.

[Charles] and is there some process they should do to wean them off their feeders? Or do you have any recommendations for how they should approach that, or any information on what, you know, what the birds might do once that food source is gone?

[Emma] Well, our understanding of, what we do know about how birds use feeders is that they rarely are super, super dependent on, well they may never be super dependent on any one source of food. And if you think about it it really makes sense. For a, for an individual to just rely on one little resource that’s totally foolhardy if you’re living especially in a temperate environment 

[Chelsea] Mmhmm.

[Emma] where food sources are unreliable. and so lots of these birds in winter have lots of food sources. And they come to your feeder, but they’re going to lots of other spots as well. So you really don’t have to worry too much 

[Charles] Okay.

[Emma] about disrupting that, it will just be one diner is closed, but there’s another diner that they’re gonna be able to go to

[Charles and Chelsea laugh]

[Emma] and feed from.

[Charles] And, I mean, don’t some of these birds they actually store food as well?

[Chelsea] Yeah.

[Charles] So you know what are some of the spe—what are some of the birds that you might find at a feeder taking food away and storing it someplace for after that? I mean I know I’ve seen chickadees,

[Chelsea] Mmhmm.

[Emma] Mmhmm.

[Charles] I would say blue jays, are there any other species that most FeederWatchers might notice carrying off food?

[Emma] Those are the ones I was gonna…

[Chelsea] Those are the biggest, yeah, the jays and the chickadees really like to cache food.

[Charles] Nuthatches.

[Chelsea] Nuthatches

[Emma] Yeah.

[Chelsea] in the bark of trees.

[Emma nods]

[Charles] Yeah.

[Chelsea] Some woodpecker species.

[Charles] Cool.

[Emma] Yeah.

[Charles] Well in sort of going off this idea of um, you know, not being around their feeders for a while, we have some other people writing in like Stephen and Linda, you know, who both are writing in with a similar observation about this fall.

[Chelsea] Mmm.

[Charles] They feel like there haven’t been 

[Chelsea] Yeah [laughs].

[Charles] birds coming to their feeders, and um, and even they’ve pointed out at our cam here at Cornell that there haven’t been that many birds coming to the feeders it seems like this fall. And uh, are they gonna come back? What’s going on with the birds? Do you guys have any insight into that from your data, or from what you’ve been reading about?

[Emma, to Chelsea] Yeah, do you wanna start?

[Chelsea] Yeah, I think this is probably like the most common question like the Lab as a whole has gotten this fall.

[Emma] Yeah [laughs].

[Chelsea] I mean in general we say you know we never really know you know what’s happening in your region, with the specific birds at your feeder. Like it’s hard to be certain.

[Emma] Mmhmm.

[Chelsea] But you know, we we offer some broad generalizations. So sometimes we say you know, it could be a predator is nearby. So if all of a sudden a Cooper or sharp-shinned hawk is hanging out at your feeders, or there’s a, your neighbor’s cat has found your feeders, you’re ob—you’re gonna see a decline in the birds visiting your feeders. Weather can impact, um but I think the big answer for this fall is that there’s just an abundance of natural food resources out there.

[Charles] Huh.

[Chelsea] So there’s a lot of acorns, and maple seeds, and you know hickory nuts, and you know there’s dogwoods with berries on it, and crabapples, and so there’s just a lot of food out there for birds this time of year, especially the fall. You know it’s really abundant. And so instead of visiting your feeders, they’re foraging in the woods. Um, so that’s one of the big observations.

[Emma] Mmhmm.

[Chelsea] And then there’s also like the timing of sometimes your winter feeder visitors might arr—have a lag between the flaw, or the the birds that are migrating from the fall. so you might be seeing that shift in, in populations and so there’s a lag time between you know departures and arrivals, basically.

[Charles] Gotcha, yeah.

[Chelsea, to Emma] And then you were reading something interesting about like the flocks and…

[Emma] Mmhmm, yeah because a lot of birds okay they’re nesting, they’re paired up in the summer. And they’re really uniformly distributed 

[Chelsea] Right.

[Emma] because every two birds wants their own little space. Well, those territories break down in the fall, and a lot of those birds like titmice, and chickadees, and things like that will form winter flocks. 

[Feeder Cam: Downy woodpecker flies in and lands on a feeder] 

And so in autumn they all start to glom together and move around more as a group. So imagine that you’ve got this just layer of bird seed that’s super flat and smooth, and there’s a seed covering every inch of the table, and then all of a sudden the seed turns into little balls.

[Feeder Cam: Downy woodpecker moves to a different feeder and begins feeding]

Well that means there are some spots with higher density, 

[Chelsea] Right.

[Emma] but there are also spots that don’t have any seeds.

[Charles] Right.

[Emma] So now replace the seeds with birds.

[Chelsea and Charles laugh]

[Emma] That’s what I’m trying to describe.

[Charles] Well I think anybody who’s gone for a walk in the woods at least around here in the winter has, has experienced that. You’re walking along and it’s dead quiet,

[Chelsea] Mmhmm.

[Charles] and then all of a sudden the forest is exploding around you, and there might be like thirty birds or something. You keep walking and then there’s no birds.

[Chelsea] Right.

[Emma] Yeah.

[Chelsea] Right.

[Charles] You know it’s that winter flocking thing, which is a really neat um, phenomenon.

[Chelsea] And I think if people that are making the observations about no birds visiting their feeder. If you’re just inside and watching your feeder it might seem like there’s absolutely zero birds around, you know. It’s the apocalypse

[Chelsea, Emma, and Charles laugh]

[Chelsea] We don’t know.

[Charles] Birdopolypse.

[Chelsea] So, but if you go outside and you take a walk, you’ll hear them, you’ll see them. So they’re there, it’s just that through you know, your looking glass, it seems like they’ve disappeared.

[Charles] Gotcha.

[Chelsea] Yeah.

[Charles] Yeah, it’s, it’s a pretty interesting one.

[Chelsea] But it is a really great observation, so.

[Emma] It is, yeah, people are noticing real biological phenomena, so

[Chelsea] Right.

[Emma] it’s so cool they can do that.

[Charles] That’s kind of what you guys are using them to do. 

[Chelsea] Right, yeah.

[Charles] The FeederWatchers are basically sending that information to you [inaudible], which is kinda neat.

[Feeder Cam: Black-capped chickadee flies in a lands on one feeder and takes a seed, while downy woodpecker remains on another]

[Chelsea] But I expect that like with the fall you know, 

[Feeder Cam: Chickadee and woodpecker fly away]

as it’s colder the, it gets harder to find those food resources we’ll see more activity

[Charles] Sure.

[Chelsea] at, you know, feeders.

[Emma] Mmhmm.

[Charles] Well and FeederWatch starts up soon, right? So like if we’re thinking about if people did want to join FeederWatch,

[Chelsea] Mmhmm.

[Charles] when does FeederWatch even start?

[Emma] Saturday! 

[Chelsea] That’s right. Saturday!

[Charles] Saturday, so like five days from now, four days from now, three days from now? 

[Emma] However many days.

[Charles] It’s a Wednesday, jeez. Who knows what day it is anymore?

[Chelsea] Mmhmm. Saturday, um, so you know, theoretically yep, if you are watching this and you wanted to participate you could sign up. You would have to use the resources through our website. 

[Emma] Mmhmm.

[Chelsea] We would, you wouldn’t get the kit 

[Charles] In time.

[Chelsea] by Saturday.

[Emma] Yeah. 

[Chelsea] But you also, it’s like we said at the beginning it’s really flexible,

[Charles] Uh-huh.

[Chelsea] so even if you sign up in a week or two, you can still participate. Every count to us matters. 

[Emma] Absolutely.

[Chelsea] Right.

[Emma] If you sign up in January, and count a couple of times.

[Chelsea] Right.

[Emma] Those are still super valuable, and then you can still get a little taste of it.

[Chelsea] Mmhmm.

[Emma] Very flexible. 

[Charles] So it’s, it’s amazing that it’s right around the corner. I feel like this was our first cold morning here in, 

[Chelsea] Yeah, good [inaudible] frost.

[Charles] in Ithaca. And um, it’s a good time of year for it to start up, bring those birds back to the feeders. Um, we’re just about out of time here, um we have one question about um, which I think is a good one. You probably have a lot of information on your website about this, but people are worried about how to clean their feeders properly,

[Chelsea] Mmm.

[Charles] and whether there are certain um, products they should use to clean it that are healthier for the birds than others. I don’t know if you guys have any feedback on that question.

[Emma] Yeah, um soap and water, warm soap and water, that’s fine. If you can pop your feeder in the dishwasher, some of them

[Chelsea] Yeah.

[Charles] Come apart.

[Chelsea] Yeah, some are dishwashable.

[Emma] Yeah.

[Chelsea] Dishwasher safe [laughs].

[Emma] Yeah, and you can use bleach. If you let it dry, the bleach evaporates completely.

[Charles] Okay.

[Emma] So as long as you dry it, it’s no problem.

[Chelsea] Yeah, I think the important part is that when you refill it it’s completely dry.

[Charles] Okay.

[Chelsea] Because you don’t want any mold growing in your feeder, so.

[Charles] Is that a danger to birds, mold?

[Chelsea] Yeah, if your seed gets moldy it can certainly be a hazard

[Emma] Yeah.

[Chelsea] for birds. Nobody wants to eat moldy food.

[Charles, Emma, and Chelsea laugh]

[Charles] Not even birds.

[Emma laughs]

[Chelsea] And I think like, just paying attention to what the conditions are like, you know. If it’s really warm, and humid, and it’s wet, and you know, then you might want to clean your feeders more frequently. If you’re seeing birds with eye disease definitely, you know, we ask people to clean your feeders, leave them down for a few days you know.

[Emma] Yeah.

[Chelsea] And make sure they’re dry when you put them back out. Um, so yeah. It’s good hygiene.

[Charles] Yeah.

[Chelsea] It’s always good.

[Chelsea and Emma laugh]

[Charles] Right. Good, well I think that’s basically where we’re gonna wrap up for this hour. And I wanted to say thanks to everyone who tuned in today and sent in quest—

.

And I also wanted to let you know that the Cornell Lab has a new online course about feeder birds, and uh it really takes a deeper look at the ID, the identification of those birds, and understanding a lot of behaviors that Emma and Chelsea have been talking about today that you can see at bird feeders. 

And right now, it doesn’t actually go online until next week, but there is a pre-enrollment discount.

[Chelsea] Mmhmm.

[Charles, to Chelsea] Were you saying something about FeederWatch? You posted a note to me.

[Chelsea] Yeah, so if um people sign up for the feeder birds course, they get a free FeederWatch membership for this season.

[Charles] Oh, okay.

[Chelsea] And if FeederWatchers, they’ve already got their membership, and they still want it, and they want to take the course, too, then we’ll extend their membership through 2018-19.

[Charles] Oh, great.

[Chelsea] So they’ll get next year for free.

[Charles] So really anybody whether you’re already 

[Chelsea] Right.

[Charles] a FeederWatcher or not,

[Chelsea] Right.

[Charles] If you sign up to take the uh online course at the uh,

[Chelsea] It’s through Bird Academy.

[Charles] at the Bird Academy site,

[Chelsea] Yeah, it’s not through FeederWatch.

[Charles] Not through FeederWatch, but it’s on, it’s on the Cornell Lab’s Bird Academy,

[Chelsea] Right.

[Charles] um, you’ll get a free membership this year, or if you’re already in FeederWatch,

[Chelsea] Next year.

[Charles] the membership for next year, which is awesome. So you can check out the course overview at Academy dot all about birds dot O R G, or you can probably even just google Cornell Lab feeder course, 

[Chelsea] Mmhmm, yeah.

[Charles] something like that, yeah. I really want to thank Chelsea and Emma 

[Chelsea] Yeah, it’s been fun.

[Charles] for coming out today. It’s the first time we’ve done this with the FeederWatch team,  and um I’ve no doubt that the questions will continue to roll in.

[Chelsea] Mmhmm.

[Charles] So hopefully we get the chance some time soon to do this again, maybe towards the end of the season we could talk a little bit about 

[Chelsea] Sure.

[Charles] what you guys are learning.

[Emma] Sounds great.

[Chelsea] That would be fun.

[Charles] Awesome.

[Chelsea] Yeah.

[Charles] Well thanks a lot, thanks to everybody out there who listened in. Sorry for the uh technical issues, and we hope to see you all again soon. Take care.

[Chelsea] Bye.

[Emma] Bye.

[Charles] Bye.

End of transcript

Many people feed birds all year round, but feeding season really ramps up in the winter. That’s when the staff at Project FeederWatch start to get deluged with question. So this year, project leader Dr. Emma Greig and project assistant Chelsea Benson decided to take to the airwaves to answer questions via our live-streamed FeederWatch cam.

In their Q&A, they join Bird Cams project leader Charles Eldermire to offer tips and answer questions about backyard bird feeding. They also share how you can have fun and contribute to science via Project FeederWatch.

Which Questions Does The Video Cover?

If you want to skip straight to a specific question, here’s a chronological list of what Emma and Chelsea cover:

Time – Question

04:28 – What has Project FeederWatch accomplished in its 30-year history?
05:38 – Have any new scientific questions arisen as a result of Project FeederWatch?
07:48 – How do people send their observational data to Project FeederWatch?
09:40 – Are there perks to joining Project FeederWatch?
10:40 – What types of people participate in Project FeederWatch?
12:20 – How does the counting protocol actually work?
13:33 – What is an example of a “wallflower” bird species found around feeders?
14:24 – Is it worth it to count excessively abundant birds such as House Sparrows?
16:10 – What’s the best way to count with multiple feeders on an individual property?
17:15 – Can you use technology to count feeder birds?
18:48 – What’s the current state of eye disease in American Goldfinches?
20:27 – Can you still count birds through FeederWatch without owning a bird feeder?
21:34 – How should I deal with nuisance animals at feeders?
27:35 – How can I deter destructive birds such as House Sparrows, European Starlings, and Common Grackles at feeders?
30:54 – Do robins tend to visit feeders that offer mealworms?
31:50 – Is it safe to offer peanut butter at feeders?
32:32 – Are preserved fruits safe to offer at feeders?
33:30 – What is the science behind “bully birds”?
35:50 – How can I minimize window strikes near feeders?
37:53 – How dependent are birds on feeders as food sources?
39:40 – Why haven’t birds been visiting feeders quite as often this fall?
43:40 – When does the Project FeederWatch counting season start this year?
44:43 – What is the appropriate method to clean your feeders?
46:10 – What’s the deal with the Bird Academy Feeder Birds course?

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