Thumbnail image: Bob Vuxinic/Project FeederWatch
>>Chelsea: So welcome to today’s webinar with Project FeederWatch, and I want to thank everyone for joining us, I’m so super excited to see how many people are interested in feeding birds this winter and maybe participating in Project FeederWatch.
My name is Chelsea Benson and today I have with me Emma Greig at Project FeederWatch, welcome, Emma.
>>Emma: Hi, thank you.
>>Chelsea: Yeah, and Holly Grant, the Project Assistant. So thanks to you both, I know it’s a really busy time for you. FeederWatch just started, right? This weekend?
>>Emma: Yeah, last weekend. And it is a busy year, busiest one ever.
>>Chelsea: That’s awesome, congrats. So we are going to be chatting a lot, but before we get into that, I have announcements.
One of them is which if you would like closed captioning, it’s available, if you would like to see subtitles, click on the captions button at the bottom of your screen.
I’m going to ask Emma and Holly a few questions from the audience, if you would like your question answered, you can type it into the Zoom’s Q & A. So you’ll see that Q & A button located at the bottom of your screen. If you like somebody else’s question in the Q & A, there’s actually a thumbs up icon, so click on that, and it brings the question to the top of the list so we’ll be sure to see it.
We’ll be answering a lot of questions verbally or as many as we can. And we’ll also be typing in our answers, one of my colleagues is behind the scenes and already responding in the Q & A. So you can check the “answered” column for those typed in answers.
Also, I see our chat is very active on Zoom already, you can use that for tech support and sharing information with others. But we’re not going to be checking it for questions. So please add your questions to the Q & A. And you’d also want to change it from “panelists” to “panelists and attendees”, so that everybody can see your chat.
For our Facebook audience, you can add your questions to the comments box. And we’ll do our best to answer those as well. And please, be aware that there’s been some spam attempts on our Facebook. So if you see a link in the Facebook comments area, please do not click it unless it’s from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, so don’t click any suspicious links from anyone else, just us. No suspicious links from us, though!
All right, so, that was a lot of announcements. Let’s get started.
Emma, could you introduce yourself and give us an overview of what is Project FeederWatch?
>>Emma: Sure. So I’m the Project Leader of FeederWatch. I’ve been in this position for about seven years now and I’ve just grown to love FeederWatch so much over this time. And the what FeederWatch is basically a winter bird counting effort. Where people across the U.S. and Canada count the birds that come to their yards, usually their bird feeders. And they enter their counts on line, send them to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and we collect and organize all of that data and see what we can do with it, see what we learn from all of our observations.
>>Chelsea: And how many participants do you have on a typical season?
>>Emma: Usually about 20,000 people sign up across both the U.S. and Canada.
>>Chelsea: That’s awesome. And Holly, could you tell us about what your role is at FeederWatch? And maybe give a give us some reasons why people might want to join the project?
>>Holly: Yeah, sure thing. So I’ve been working as an assistant for the past couple of years here, basically my duties include I’m answering a lot of phone calls for FeederWatch and answering a lot of e mails, keeping up with our social media pages, and a bunch of other little jobs, you know, around our WordPress pages and, you know. Pretty much if there’s a little something that needs to be done, I’m there to help out with it.
And then to join FeederWatch, people should join it because it’s just plain fun! If you enjoy watching your backyard birds, why not watch them and have it put to greater use in the world of science? Help us learn more about the birds that you’re seeing every day.
>>Chelsea: Awesome. So Emma, FeederWatch has been around for quite a while. This is your 34th season, is that right?
>>Emma: Can you believe it? Yeah, 34 years.
>>Emma: People have been counting birds, following the same protocol for 34 years. It is really a fantastic dataset because of that.
>>Chelsea: Can you tell us about what you’ve learned from that dataset?
>>Emma: It’s a tough question in a way, because there are dozens of scientific papers that have come out from FeederWatch data and there’s quite a lot, there’s no way to say it all now, but themes that emerge, I would say that the birds in our backyards are very influenced by changes in climate. And the mild winters, more mild winters in some parts of the country, are really starting to lead to more warm adapted species coming to backyards. So a lot of people may be noticing that in different places.
We’re also learning how important habitat is for birds. You know, forested areas, what you do in your backyard, it all matters. So those are some really broad themes.
Now, I have a little example of a particular study that we’ve done with FeederWatch data that I can show with a couple of slides, if you’d like?
>>Chelsea: Yeah, I think that would be really great to illustrate something that you’ve learned from all of these 20,000 people collecting data over the years.
>>Emma: Yeah, because the other things are very broad patterns but we do have every paper has its own cool thing.
So I’m going to try and do a screen share. Let’s see if I can do this. And just share a couple of slides about a project that was started by let’s try share. That seemed like it might be working?
>>Chelsea: You’ve got it.
>>Emma: Now, how do I turn it to a slide show? Does that look good for y’all? Yeah.
So this was a little bit of research done by a post doc, who is working in the Macaulay Library, Elliott Miller. And he had this great idea of taking all of the, you know, everyone’s watching their backyard birds through FeederWatch. And we just count them, normally. But he thought, well, what if we do a little more and start keeping track of how those birds interact with each other?
And so, now, within FeederWatch, you can do more than just count, you can also record behavioral interactions. So this, what I’m about to show you is the what we’ve learned from a couple of years of behavioral interaction data. And it’s called “who’s the toughest bird?”
So what I’m showing you now are it’s impossible to read all of those little letters. But those are all species codes for all of the different species that people saw interacting at their bird feeders. And they’re ranked by dominance. So the more dominant species are at the top of this list. And the less dominant species that would get displaced at feeders are at the bottom.
Well, it might not come as a great surprise, but the more dominant species are bigger. And the less dominant species are smaller. So I think I wanted to ask a little quiz to all of our audience, part one of the quiz, and then there’ll be a part two in a second. Who do you think is the toughest bird based on this? If the largest bird is the most dominant, and we’re talking about backyard birds that come to bird feeders, do folks have any guesses?
I can’t see the chat. So I have no idea
>>Chelsea: People are guessing Blue Jays, a lot of Blue Jays, crows, starlings.
>>Emma: I like these guesses.
>>Chelsea: Lots of really good guesses. Woodpecker species. Magpies, another one.
>>Emma: Well, surprise. It’s the turkey.
>>Emma: This is just because they’re so enormous. I know, and you’re all probably like, that shouldn’t count. But this is a just a really straightforward ranking of basically the biggest to smallest.
Well, not quite smallest. So the least dominant is the Eurasian Tree Sparrow. Not the House Sparrow, but the Eurasian Tree Sparrow, which just is in the Midwest, so there’s a little population of them there. So a little bit of a surprise.
Okay. You probably are all wondering, what the heck, this doesn’t mean anything, I know Blue Jays are the jerks at my feeder and turkeys are peaceful.
Well, that’s because we have to think about it a little more carefully. And compare that ranking of most dominant to the mass of the bird and say, well, who’s the meanest relative to their body size? So taking into account the fact that if you’re bigger, you’re not going to get displaced. If you look at this graph, the birds above this line are birds who, for their mass, they’re actually more aggressive than you would expect based on their body size.
And look who it is. It’s Blue Jays, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, blackbirds, actually, a lot of those guesses that people were making actually come from a very they’re right, those are really aggressive species. So I think it’s so cool that this dataset really illustrated stuff that we can kind of tell, we kind of know, but this quantified it.
So the birds in the lower part are birds that are less dominant than you would expect for their size. Whoops, where is their picture? There they are.
So these are things like grosbeaks and Mourning Doves. What’s more peaceful than a dove? It makes sense that the what we think is the case is true. And so here, the last little bit of this section, there’s one bird that’s a little bit I gave it away! Maybe not?
>>Emma: Here, you can see the little red circle around that dot? If you didn’t notice, the bird that just popped up, what species do you think this is? It’s really, really far away from that red line, so it’s really aggressive for its body size. Take a guess in the chat. Does everyone did they all see it?
>>Chelsea: If they didn’t, they are most of them are saying hummingbirds or wrens.
>>Emma: Oh, wrens.
>>Chelsea: A good guess, too.
>>Emma: Wren is a really good guess. And a hummingbird. It’s a Rufus Hummingbird. Even among hummingbirds, Rufus hummingbirds are feisty little devils.
Sot anyway, that’s the story of, or one of the many stories of the sorts of things that we can learn from your FeederWatch counts. And I could actually go on and on with other stories. Let’s see if I can stop screen sharing. How do I do that? Did it stop?
>>Chelsea: That was really good, thank you for sharing that. I know that the hummingbirds, for being so tiny, they certainly pack a punch, they’re very territorial at feeders.
>>Emma: Yeah, they are very feisty.
>>Chelsea: And I wanted to ask you another question about FeederWatch, Emma, I know this year was really interesting. With the pandemic, I know that you guys are some changes. What did you do, and what did you learn from that?
>>Emma: Well, yeah, so what we did, normally this season ends in early April, but when we realized that folks were going to be stuck at home a lot more than usual this past spring, we extended the FeederWatch season through the end of April.
And folks seemed very happy to have a little extra time to count their birds. And I mean, really, what’s better than counting backyard birds when you can’t really go out and do anything? So FeederWatch was perfect for this. And will don’t be perfect for it over this coming winter when we still have to spend a lot more time at home than we are used to.
What we learned was that, if you keep the FeederWatch season open longer, well, you start to pick up on a lot of migrants that we normally miss because of the season ends in early April. So folks were reporting all kinds of warblers, and grosbeaks, orioles, all sorts of species that maybe would get a few little hints of them in the winter. But not nearly as much as we did this year.
So it was really cool to see that, and I think really begs for us to start extending the season more. We’re not quite ready but we want to, we really want to.
>>Chelsea: That’s good to know, I’m sure people would love to be able to count for longer.
All right. So we received a lot of questions about bird feeding. But before we kind of switch gears into feeding birds, Holly, I wanted to ask you if you could clarify for us: How exactly do you go about counting birds for FeederWatch? What’s the protocol that you guys use?
>>Holly: Yeah, sure thing. So when FeederWatchers are conducting a count, what we ask them to do is determine a count site, so some parameters, maybe the edge of their backyard. And they count the same count the birds that come within this area every single time that they conduct a count throughout the season. So they have consistency there.
And the then when they do count, they’re counting the highest number of each species seen simultaneously within their count site. So let’s say you see three chickadees come to your feeder, all at the same time, and then they all fly away. And then maybe they come back, and have two of their friends with them, so five chickadees. By the end of the two days’ count, if that’s the highest number that you saw at one time, you’ll report five for that species of Chickadee.
>>Chelsea: Gotcha. And they don’t have to be just at the feeder, right?
>>Holly: That’s correct, yeah. It’s all up to you. Some people do use their count site as just birds that come to their feeders. Others count the birds who come beneath the feeders, or if there’s plantings or special shrubs or berries planted to attract birds, maybe bird baths that are nearby. So it’s really up to you how big that count site is.
It’s also up to you how long you want to count. Some people may want to count a couple of minutes on day one and a couple of minutes on day two. Maybe they’ll count on and off while they’re doing chores all day. Some people will sit there and they’ll watch for four straight hours. As long as you record how long you’re actually watching your count site, you can report that later when you’re actually submitting those counts to us.
>>Chelsea: Awesome. What happen if they can’t get a good ID on a bird? Do you have any suggestions for ways that they might be able to figure out what that bird is, if they know it’s a sparrow, but not sure what kind of sparrow? Because those little brown birds are tricky.
>>Holly: They are, and especially with new participants who might not be as familiar with ID. One of the best things that we can offer is the Cornell Lab has an app called Merlin. And you can it’s a cool app it asks you five questions, where you are, the date, and then some questions about the bird. And it will give you a list of possible options. So that’s a great place to start.
You can also use some of our tips online, one of the web pages is Tricky Bird IDs, how to tell the birds that are hard to tell apart. Like Chipping Sparrows and American Tree Sparrows, things like that, that there’s just a hair of a difference between them.
And then, very worst case, if you still are just totally out of luck, we have two more options. One of them, when you are reporting your count online, it’s a little button that says add species, and you can add generic species name to your list. So let’s say you see a sparrow, it’s hopeless you can’t tell what species it is, but you saw three of them. You can go into the count and type in sparrow with an SP and a period right after that. So that tells, okay, you know it’s a sparrow species but you can’t identify it any closer than that. You can select that, add it to your count, and then add a number 3 next to it, if you saw 3 of them. We have that for sparrows, hawks, fly catchers, a few key birds
And then your final application is to e mail us, if you’re out all out of luck, give us an e mail, send a photo if you can, and we’ll help you out.
>>Chelsea: People are asking if Merlin is free. And yes, Merlin is a free app and it’s also there’s a web based version, too. So you can use the web based version, which is on allaboutbirds.org , and there’s a section called “Bird ID.” So you can go there, and that’s a really great way to narrow it down. And if you really can’t get it, thank goodness for you, Holly, and Anne Marie, the other assistant that are excellent on bird ID photographs. That’s super helpful to know.
All right, a couple of more questions about counting. Now, Emma, some people are wondering if they can tell a difference between male and female, like cardinals are easy to tell the difference, but a Mourning Dove or a Blue Jay it’s impossible by looking at them to know if it’s a male or female. How do you count, the ones that you can tell apart and the ones that you can’t?
>>Emma: Oh, boy, everybody is going to be mad about this answer, but you are supposed to count all of the different species in the same way. I know that sometimes we know more about some species than others. But it’s like, since we want to treat all of the species the same, you have to go with the lowest common denominator, like a chickadee, where you can’t tell the males from the females.
And I’m sorry. It’s just it makes all of the different species more comparable and analysis. So that’s why, I know it seems frustrating, it seems wrong, but remember, you’re just sampling anyway. Just taking a little snapshot of what’s in your yard. So you’re never really counting every single bird that’s in your yard.
>>Emma: If you can bring yourself to follow the protocol, that’s best.
>>Holly: Just to clarify, if you see a male cardinal come to your feeder, just by himself, he flies away and then a female comes? You know it’s two different birds but the highest number you saw simultaneously was one bird, you’re going to put one next to the cardinal.
>>Chelsea: It seems like you said counter-intuitive, but it’s important that the data is collected the same way. Thank you for clarifying that. Sorry, audience, if you didn’t like the answer.
>>Emma: The most controversial thing we will talk about today.
>>Chelsea: Sometimes birds come in large flocks to the feeder, the blackbirds, they come in huge groups. The ground is just like jumping around with birds. How to count that crazy number of birds at the feeders?
>>Holly: This is something that we call blocking, you basically take a small section of those birds and you count how many are in that small section. Just kind of say, all right, there’s about ten birds, right? And then, use that to estimate the flock size, kind of super impose that image in your mind on that whole flock, to see if you can estimate that total flock size, and then that’s the number that you should use. So what I would recommend is trying this out on your non-FeederWatch count days and you’ll be ready.
>>Chelsea: Another species that often comes in large groups. And just is tricky, but yeah, if you’re practicing and counting smaller groups and trying to apply it across, it does help. Obviously, you’re not going to get an exact number. But you’re doing your best and it’s all we can do.
Emma, you touched on this briefly, a lot of people are working from home right now. And, you know, I know that I spend half of my day at the dining table and I have feeders next to my porch off the dining area. And so, like I’m you know, checking my feeders throughout the day, and how would you go about like if your count day, looking periodically, do you add up your ten-minute chunks you’re watching as your total time? What’s your suggestion there?
>>Emma: Yeah just estimate really how much time you’re looking out the window, whether it’s continuous or interrupted.
>>Emma: The main thing is try to guess, well, this is how much time I actually spent looking out the window, because the amount of time people spend watching their feeders is very much associated with how many birds they see. The longer you spend watching, the more opportunity you have to see more birds. And so, that’s why it’s really important that folks record that information about how much time they spend watching, and do it consistently.
>>Chelsea: Thanks, all right, we have a couple of more FeederWatch questions and we’re going to switch to bird ID and bird feeder questions, so.
>>Emma: Woo hoo.
>>Chelsea: Emma, will FeederWatch counts be available in eBird, do they communicate at all?
>>Emma: They communicate a little bit in that they’re all stored in the same database, they use the same taxonomy. Because the FeederWatch protocol is over a two day period, doesn’t match up with any eBird protocols for counting, so you don’t actually see your FeederWatch counts and your eBird counts because the protocols are different, also, anyone who comes into use the data would analyze them separately. And so there’s the answer to that, I think.
>>Chelsea: And a lot of people want to know why only winter, but we kind of already touched on that, in that you would hope to it’s a capacity issue with being a smaller team at the Lab of Ornithology and the tech involved and expanding a season. But people also want to know, like, right now, we’re based, if you know, with the Lab of Ornithology in the United States and Birds Canada, in Canada. Would you ever hope to expand geographically?
>>Emma: I would love to so much, I mean a lot of the birds in the backyards spend their winters in Mexico, so we’re not really capturing or further south, in South America, even. So we don’t capture the entire life cycle of a lot of birds with the counting that we do. But, you know, we’re doing the best we can now, and as we build capacity through time, I would hope very much to be able to expand geographically. There’s so much that we want to do, everything takes you have to prioritize everything, so.
>>Emma: Someday, someday.
>>Chelsea: All right. Folks, in the audience, we’re going to shift gears away from talking about FeederWatch specifically. And talk more about backyard birds, and tips for feeding birds. So Holly, you mentioned that there’s a place to find Tricky Bird IDs. And one of our audience members pre-submitted a question. And they are wondering, how to tell the difference between a House Finch and a Purple Finch? That is tricky. And he’s been thinking he’s misidentifying. So would you pull up the page that you mentioned and kind of you can what us through how you set the tricky ID page.
>>Holly: Absolutely, we have a page that will definitely help this person. I’m going to share my screen. All right. Is that coming through all right?
>>Chelsea: Sure is.
>>Holly: All right. So this is the FeederWatch home page. Nice big blue banner. And what we’re going to do is we’re going to go under the “Learn” tab, you can see there’s a bunch of great stuff here, and we’re going to move over to this “Tricky Bird ID” column. So we have a whole bunch here, that help you tell the difference between some commonly misidentified birds like Downy Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers, Sharp-shinned versus Cooper’s Hawks. We’re going to click on the Cassin’s, House and Purple Finch. This web page opens up, you’ll see, we have this really great guide, that opens up with the three males of those species. And below, a couple of different field marks that help set them apart.
So for example, the difference between House Finches and Purple Finches, like this person was asking, House Finches have a rounded head with a smooth crown, whereas Purple Finches have a large head and their crown can appear peaked, you can see a difference in the coloration, Purple Finches are more raspberry colored and their bill is a little bit of a different shape.
One of the great things is click on one of these rows and it will specifically show you examples of that field mark, here you can see the rounded head for the House Finch and the crests on the Purple Finch there. And again, with the color, you’ve got some more examples on the bottom.
And up here, we also have female field marks, you can see the difference between the females. A chance to learn more about these species. And we have the sounds, so you can play the sounds and see if the birds are singing at your feeders, you can kind of use these to tell the difference. Scroll down, they’re in a horizontal format here.
And then, range maps. So if you’re seeing a bird at your feeders, that looks like one of these, and let’s say you live in Utah, you’re probably not going to see the Purple Finches, because they don’t live in Utah, but the House Finch do. Here’s one of the pages under the learn tab, I think that are helpful for folks.
>>Chelsea: Could you open that back up? While you have your screen share there, a lot of people are asking about how to decide what kind of feeders and foods to put out to attract certain birds? And on the web page, I know you have a really cool interactive and I would love if you could walk people through it so that they could figure out how to attract birds to their places?
>>Holly: Absolutely. This is one of my favorite things to offer to people, again, we’re on the “Learn” tab so we are this “Feeding Birds” section and as well as the “Common Feeder Birds” interactive. So we’re going to start here. The Common Feeder Birds interactive. A really cool tool, we have. It shows you every common species of bird that arrives to feeders, so it doesn’t have every single species, but all of the common ones that people typically report to us.
So first, you can use these filters on the left hand side to filter your region. Let’s say the northeast. And that will shrink this list of birds down to those who have arrived to feeders in the northeast. The food type here, you can switch between different food types, so let’s say you have a feeder with black oil sunflower seeds or cracked corn, the birds that will come to your feeder if you provide that kind of food. And then down here is feeder type. So if you are in the northeast, and you provide black oil sunflower seeds on the ground, these are the birds that are most likely to come to your feeder setup. So that’s one of the ways you can use this tool.
One of the other ways — I’m going to reset all of these with the reset buttons.
Let’s say you have a bird you want to see at the birder, you want to see the grosbeak, and so if you click on that species picture, and you scroll down, you have all of their information right there. So you can see all right, they typically come to feeders in the northeast, the southwest, and the northwest. And this year, you might see them in the southeast as well. They come to feeders that are stocked with sunflower seeds, whether they have their shells on or not, and the best way to attract them is to use a large tube feeder, a large hopper feeder, or a platform feeder. And then at the bottom you can use the All About Birds link here, if you want to learn more about the species.
So it’s a super cool tool. I love recommending it when people ask me, I want to set up a feeder and I want to attract species A, B, C, and I give them this tool and they can use this to inform their purchases and arrange their feeder site in a way to attract the birds that they really want to see.
>>Chelsea: That’s really great, because I know that sometimes when you go to the store, it can be really overwhelming.
>>Holly: Uh huh.
>>Chelsea: Because there’s so many different types of seat and feeder, if you use this tool before you go, you’ll have a good of what you might want to purchase.
>>Holly: Exactly. And, you know, there’s other birds, too. Here, let’s open up the American Crow. They pretty much eat everything. So you want to the get crows at your feeder, you have a whole bunch of options.
Anything else you would like me to show on the website?
>>Chelsea: No, that’s great, thank you very much.
All right. So Emma, do you have any tips for creating a safe feeder environment? People are asking about window strikes, what’s a good distance to put your feeder, and cleaning them? So we want to the attract birds to our yards because they’re so beautiful, but it’s tragic to see anything negative happen. So what are some steps that people can take to kind of mitigate some issues that might have by having bird feeders out?
>>Emma: Yeah, that’s a great question, and two of the biggest harms that befall birds who come to bird feeders are window strikes and cats. So keeping your cats indoors, really does help. And keeping bird feeders close to windows, actually helps. It seems counter intuitive, but the reason for that is, if a bird is at a feeder and gets spooked and flies into your window, if the feeder is really close to the window, it doesn’t have the time to get enough speed to really harm itself. So I think that even as close as a meter, 3 feet, is thought to be about the safest distance from a window.
Other things though that you can do to have a safe feeder environment, are things like don’t use pesticides in your yard, try to nurture the nature that can just grow and thrive around your yard. The more bugs you have, the more insects, the better it is for birds. Not just feeder birds but any birds that might come to your habitat. Leaving your yard a little bit messy, you don’t have to rake up all of the leaves and burn all of the twigs, leave a place for the Towhees to scratch around in as they’re moving through. If you can stand it, it’s really good for birds.
>>Chelsea: What about cleaning feeders, do you have any advice about what’s the best way to clean a feeder? Or how to clean them?
>>Emma: Yeah, if you have feeders that can come apart easily, and you can stick them in the dishwasher, now and then, that’s a good thing to do. What do we recommend cleaning frequency, Holly, I can never remember this stuff?
>>Holly: Oh, generally, we recommend cleaning them once every week or two. So it’s pretty it sounds really frequently, but, you know, some studies have been done on the diseases that can be transferred on feeders, make sure to scrub all of the debris off of the feeder and we recommend if you can, soaking your feeder in the bleach solution, a weak bleach solution for ten minutes to an hour, which can really help reduce viral and bacterial loads on there that can get passed on to birds.
>>Emma: Yeah, I guess the way I have heard this said before, it’s like if you’re having a dinner party, you want to provide your guests with clean dishes, and nice food, and a nice ambiance that’s safe. And so that’s also what we want to do with the space that we create for birds.
>>Holly: If you noticed that your seed is getting a little moldy or wet, too, you know. Keep an eye on it and if you’re seeing mold pop up, discard it, clean your feeders and refill.
>>Emma: Yeah, you wouldn’t feed that to guests, no.
>>Chelsea: I love that. Keep your guests happy.
A lot of people are interested in using different things besides just seed and peanuts, some people are asking about like attracting other birds with like mealworms, or fruit? Do you guys have any suggestions like, a lot of people are interested in bluebirds, specifically. What are your thoughts on how to attract a bluebird?
>>Emma: Well, they do love mealworms, that’s my understanding about bluebirds. What else? Well, putting out some bluebird boxes doesn’t hurt, too, if you live if a place where they’ll nest. But that’s a you know, a little fun for the springtime when FeederWatch ends.
I’m trying to think. What other ideas, Holly.
>>Holly: Oranges and grape jelly, is a great time, if you have Orioles comes through the area. Orioles, catbirds, I saw a robin at my oranges and grape jelly this spring. It’s a nice little fruity treat, I think Red-bellied Woodpecker would like to come to that, too.
>>Emma: You have a lot of stuff, including possibly bluebirds, with a couple of oranges, yeah. Yeah, good.
>>Chelsea: Yeah, it might be tricky if you live in a climate that freezes in the winter months, to put out fresh fruits and jellies because they’re going to solidify pretty quickly. But if you live in a warmer climate, it’s a really great idea to attract other birds. Of course, keeping an eye on making sure that they don’t attract too many pests or get moldy, of course, just talking about is really important as well.
What about Holly, could you talk about providing water and the importance of water for birds during the winter time?
>>Holly: Yeah, absolutely. So water attracts biers just like seed does. You know, the birds do still need to they like to take their baths and need water in their diets, obviously. So one of the other good things you can do in the winter time is buy a bird bath heater. Or, I think we have a tip on the website about using an upturned pot with a lightbulb on, can keep the dish of water that might be set on top of that warm enough.
A sprayer can also help or a dripper that helps the water not appear smooth as glass, it looks like it’s moving afternoon a bit, it can attract birds as well. I think you can hang a bucket with a little hole poked in the bottom and the water will drip out in little droplets into like a pan or a shallow dish. That can help be attractive to birds.
And then, especially, having a bird bath for birds is great, but it can be either on the ground or raised. But make sure it’s shallow, and you’re changing the water every day, so it’s fresh, it’s clean, you’re not letting it get mucky or gross. And adding a couple of rocks in that as well, to give them a space to stand, can also be helpful.
But just make sure you never add antifreeze! It sounds simple but we’ve had that question. Never add anything extra to prevent the water from freezing.
>>Chelsea: Toxic is bad.
So we have a lot questions about discouraging other feeder visitors. Because while we put out feeders and we get birds and things that we love, they can also attract things that animals that we’re not so excited about. So we’re going to do a little lightning round.
>>Chelsea: So I know. Get ready. So I’m going to say your name, and an unwanted feeder visitor. And you’re going to do your best to give some advice to our audience about how to discourage those feeder visitors.
We’ll just start by saying, sometimes there’s no way to discourage them. Like, some are just going to and everybody knows what I’m talking about right now.
>>Chelsea: So Holly, let’s start with you, because we’re talking about squirrels. Go!
>>Holly: Squirrels, yeah, so squirrels, there’s no 100% way to get rid of squirrels at your feeders, however, poles added to the feeder pole can help, a location that’s farther away, that distracted them from your feeders can also help. And we even had somebody hung their feeder on a clothes line and then strung that line with soda bottles so the squirrels would fall off, the soda bottles would spin and couldn’t access it, there’s not a lot of great ways to avoid them, but you can try a few different ways and keep them at bay as long as you can.
>>Chelsea: It’s hilarious. I’ve tried the soda bottle thing and watched spin, sometimes they can get by it anyway and they earned that seed, I have to hand it to them.
And I actually have a feeder that’s on a spring so that the port is closed, if something heavy lands on it. And that’s been pretty helpful for me. So if you’re in the audience, sometimes the spring loaded feeders can work, but not always.
All right. Emma, you’re next. Bears!
>>Emma: Bears? Take your feeders down until they go hibernation. Maybe you could spring a rope really super high, and hang your feeder from that. I don’t know.
>>Chelsea: We’re not experts on mammals, so I would honestly reach out to like your game commission or the DEC is what we have in New York state. And ask them about when bears are hibernating typically in your area, because it’s so geographically different. But, yeah, no, we don’t want bears getting used to feeders, like that’s a bad combination for them and for people.
All right. Let’s see. Holly. Deer.
>>Holly: Deer. Let’s see, actually, I think this is similar, we you know, take your feeders in at night if they’re coming only at night, that works pretty much for every mammalian visitor coming to your feeders. You can hang them or keep them out of the deer’s reach, or add baffles. But they’re another difficult one, unless you have a fence around your yard, really.
>>Chelsea: Yeah, try to fence. All right. Emma, we have some people that are in more urban environments, that are putting out bird feeders, mice and rats.
>>Emma: Oh, man, how do you get rid of those? You have to have feeders that don’t spill seeds all over the place. That’s my best advice.
>>Holly: Maybe a no mess blend?
>>Chelsea: Yeah, a no mess blend, can you tell people what that is.
>>Holly: Yes, no mess blends are basically blends of birdseeds that are full of birdseeds without their shells on them. They are not going to discard those pieces that they’re not going to eat. That helps reduce the mess that falls on the ground. If you do have anything that falls on the grown, you can use a rake to rake that up as well, too, you have to keep up with it pretty regularly, though, if you have ground visitors. Ground mammals.
>>Chelsea: They’re so small and they fit everywhere, get everywhere. But there are ways to it’s a lot of this is trial and error. You have to figure out what’s going to work for where you live.
All right. The last one. Emma, House Sparrows.
>>Emma: Oh, God, no, you picked me for House Sparrows. I don’t know. What can you do? Okay. If you hang a feeder or you have a feeder where the birds have to hang on it, in order to get to the seeds, House Sparrows don’t love hanging on stuff so that’s a way to discourage them.
You can also just get used to them. You know, these are other animals that come into your yard and House Sparrows are on the decline. So, you know, the poor little guys, maybe they need a little treat now and then? So there’s my other little suggestion is just
>>Chelsea: Maybe people don’t know about that. If you want to the expand on that a little bit, how we know that the House Sparrows populations are declining, that might strike people as really?
>>Emma: Actually, we know, in part from FeederWatch data, so we can see the decline in House Sparrows by looking at all of your counts over the past several decades, and yeah, we have a paper coming out about it soon, and in the last issue of Winter Bird Highlights, we have a little article about it so you can tune in and read all about House Sparrow declines in North America. So don’t be so mad at the poor little things, they’re struggling.
>>Holly: For anybody who’s at their wits end with any animal coming to their feeder, for FeederWatch, you don’t have to provide bird feed, if it’s other just the plantings or the water. So if you really don’t want to attract any birds, because of that come to your feeders because of that food, don’t provide food. And then you can just watch your birds that come to your shrubs, your trees, your berry producing things, your bird baths and that still counts for FeederWatch.
>>Emma: It totally does.
>>Chelsea: Creating that bird friendly habitat is a great substitute. If you’re just in an area where it’s not possible, or you’re getting too many unwanted guests, that’s a great idea, Holly.
All right. So our Q & A is bumping. Thank you all so much for answering putting all of these questions in there, and we’re barely dipping in so I’m kind of perusing the questions now, and something that people want to know about is whether or not birds become dependent on feeders? And like, can feeders impact migration? Especially for like hummingbirds or typical migrants? Emma, do you want to take a stab at that one?
>>Emma: Yeah, these are really good questions, it’s kind of two questions, dependency and how does it affect migration?
From what we know, most of the time, the birds coming to our bird feeders have a lot of food sources. So you may think you’re pretty special, but they’re probably also getting food from other places. And that’s part of how these birds have been able to evolve and live in temperate climates, if they relied on one food source, that is a very tenuous food existence for cold weather species, especially.
So typically, no. Birds don’t become dependent on feeders.
The only exception to this is when times are really if there’s a really big snow or a really severe cold snap. That is when we start to see an effect of feeder on survival. So if there’s an effect of feeder on survival, they don’t have feeders in those really tough times, they might perish. Now, if you want I don’t know if you would call that dependency, but it’s a time when feeders can really make a difference for birds.
Now, the other question about migration. The answer is actually a little bit counter intuitive. So birds are triggered to migrate based on a lot based on temperature, and daylight, the photo period. So they know okay, it’s time for me to go.
And sometimes they will not travel if they’re in really poor condition. So providing food for migrating birds can actually encourage them to keep on their merry way and keep going. They can come, fuel up, get a little snack and move on. So the birds that stick around because you have bird feeders out and don’t migrate, sometimes we see individual birds doing that. They probably weren’t going to go anywhere anyway, and they just might not have survived at all if they didn’t have your feeders to stay at.
It’s a little it’s kind of nuanced thing to think about. But I think it’s cool, the interaction between people and birds and the environment, it’s all so connected in really cool ways.
>>Chelsea: That’s really great. Thanks for and we have learned a little bit about that with the Anna’s Hummingbird, is that right?
>>Emma: That’s right, yeah, thanks for bringing that up, so Anna’s Hummingbirds are west coast hummingbird, that over the past I don’t know, four or five, six many decades, has been expanding their winter range north. So these little hummingbirds will now over-winter in British Columbia, you’ll see an Anna’s Hummingbird in the snow in your backyard. I mean, it’s totally crazy.
From FeederWatch data, we can see — and I do that think is one of the amazing things about the repeated counts people make at their feeders, we can start to actually understand a bit about bird behavior, based on how often a species will come to your feeder. And what we have learned is that Anna’s Hummingbirds that live in more northern latitudes, are more if you happen to get lucky enough to have one in your yard, you’re more likely to see that bird on any given day if you live in a colder place. Which tells me that those northern latitude hummingbirds are using feeders more regularly.
So it seems like feeders might be allowing them to expand their range, and in a way, that’s true, but these are they are not a typical migratory hummingbird to begin with. They’re more they have funny little local movement patterns that we don’t understand super well, but they’re not long distance migrants. So an example of a hummingbird that’s expanding the winter range, probably in part due to feeders. But I don’t know that I would go so far to say that feeders aren’t preventing them from migrating. They don’t have that inclination to migrate in the first place, they’re pretty disposed to stick around through the winters.
But again, I mean, this is an interaction between birds and people. And the last little cool thing about it is that we know from FeederWatch data, that not only are there more hummingbirds in the Pacific Northwest in winter now than in the past, there are also more people putting out hummingbird feeders that we can see a change in human behavior, perhaps in response to these hummingbirds sticking around.
>>Chelsea: If I saw a hummingbird in my yard, I would be way more inclined to put out more feeders.
>>Chelsea: Which means more hummingbirds.
>>Emma: Exactly, there’s this cool interaction between people and birds in so many different ways and this is one more cool example of that.
>>Chelsea: So I’m cruising through our Q & A and I’m noticing Holly, there’s a lot of questions about how to count and count site, like is it just like my feeder or is I like the telephone poles bind my house, and there’s a lot of nuance to these questions, and if you could show us where people can go on the FeederWatch page so that they can kind of get answers to these questions? Because unfortunately, we can’t go through them all, there’s so many.
>>Holly: Right, absolutely. So I’m going to share my screen. And I’ll go back to the FeederWatch home page here, so I can show you all to get to it. And in case, it hasn’t been mentioned, it’s FeederWatch.org. So if anybody goes on to the website, that’s the one you go to. So anybody, whether or not you’re signed up for FeederWatch or not, you can go the about tab here the important one thing that these people are trying that will help these people with the nuanced questions, is the detailed instructions.
So these details instructions, this is the same information that comes in the FeederWatch kit, it’s digitized here. You can use any of these topics here to click on a topic and it will jump you right down to that part, the further explanation further down in the page, so convention you’re wondering about how to choose your count days, you can click on that and it will give you all of that information right here. So again, two consecutive days, no more than once a week, five days apart, between those two days there. So I definitely suggest anybody who has these nuanced questions, go in, read over our instructions, and maybe a couple of times if it’s a lot of information.
>>Holly: And if you still have questions about that, then you can send us an e mail and I’ll be happy to explain things further.
>>Chelsea: And I know that FeederWatch has an app now? For doing counts on. So if you’re submitting online, most of the time, you tell people to submit their two count at the end of their two day count.
>>Chelsea: If they’re using the app, is it the same thing or is it different?
>>Holly: It’s a little bit different so, the instructions are the same in terms of how to count and where you should be counting.
>>Holly: But the app is a replacement for a paper tally sheet. So if you prefer to keep track on paper, we have in those instructions, there is a spot where you can download a paper tally form, print it out and keep track by hand, but there’s a link to the FeederWatch app, you can open it up and start an account in the app and tap on the pictures of the birds to tally them. After the two days, it will save the count throughout the two days and hit the submit and it goes directory to FeederWatch. You have your paper tally sheet, you have to go on to FeederWatch.org and transfer all of those counts you made with the paper and pencil on to our website. So it’s a different the app can do it all in real time, the FeederWatch website has you enter it all at the very end of your count. I hope that’s clear.
>>Chelsea: Yeah, that’s great, I love that you guys have an app now to do that. How very modern.
So a lot of people are asking if this is being recorded. Yes, we are recording this webinar. And it’s automatically going to archive on Facebook. So if you want to see this recording, immediately, or share it with somebody, if you go to the Cornell Lab’s Facebook page, it will be available in their video section. For everybody on Zoom, who’s watching, you will be e mailed a recording of this by tomorrow, with some of the resources that we have been talking about. So look for that, it will be up, we definitely are recording, if you want to be able to share this with other people who couldn’t attend or if you are watching and want to share it with somebody. You’ll be able to, either through Facebook, immediately, or wait until you get that e mail from me tomorrow.
All right. So we’re going to go, let’s see, there’s another question, Emma, about eBird, people are wondering, if they we know that the data is different, the way you’re counting is different, and so the data is not connected. But if they were submitting their FeederWatch count, can they also add their counts to eBird? Let’s say that they were watching their feeders, they counted for you, they added their data, could they also add it to eBird or is that not preferred?
>>Emma: Well, so I think that the complicating thing is that the FeederWatch protocol is over this two day window, and I think that the longest count window that eBird allows is a 24 hour one. So I think that is the only reason why it might not make sense to put your FeederWatch counts in the eBird. But I mean.
>>Holly: It’s also important, because for FeederWatch, you’re counting the highest number seen at one time. For FeederWatch, you’re reporting one bird or one cardinal, if you were making the eBird count, you would be reporting two single birds, you’re counting every bird you see within one continuous count. So the counting is a little bit different, you can definitely submit an eBird count when you can submit it on the same day, but I wouldn’t copy an eBird count to feeder watch or copy a feeder bird count to eBird. You would want them error recorded according to their own unique counts.
>>Chelsea: These have been hard hitting questions, this webinar.
>>Chelsea: What’s your favorite feeder bird? People want to know. What bird do you love to see at a feeder or do you hope to see? Maybe both?
>>Emma: Well, I’ve got mine on my T shirt here, it’s the Gouldian Finch, can you see this beautiful finch? They’re Australian, though, so –
>>Holly: And I gosh I like at a lot of different birds at the feeder, the Carolina Wren, they don’t come to my feeders very often, I are one or two that live nearby, but you might see them once or twice a month. And of course, this year, I’m hoping for the grosbeaks, but they haven’t come to my feeders yet.
>>Chelsea: I have a Red-breasted Nuthatch at my feeder for the last few week, and it’s so cute, I love it. And it’s aggressive as we were talking about at the beginning of the webinar, it’s like one of the ones that chases the other birds away. But I love seeing that bird at the feeder. Just because it’s like Holly, it’s not one that I get to see all the time so when I do get to see it, it’s super special.
All right. So we had tons of great questions. From everybody. And Emma, could you remind people if they are interested in signing up for FeederWatch, how to go about doing that?
>>Emma: Yes, the easiest way to do it is to go to the website, FeederWatch.org. And then there’s a big red button that guides you to the join page. So just click on through that and you can sign up, whether you’re in the U.S. or in Canada. And there you go. You’ll be all set.
>>Chelsea: They can start as soon as they sign up?
>>Emma: They can start right away. You could even start counting before you sign up, if you want to. And then enter your counts after you sign up.
>>Chelsea: There you go. Retroactively add them.
>>Emma: That’s perfectly fine.
>>Chelsea: And Holly, I heard that there’s a photo contest going on at the same time as the FeederWatch, so could you tell us more about that contest and how our audience might get involved, even if they’re not a photographer?
>>Holly: Yes, absolutely, so the BirdSpotter contest. Many of you may remember this from previous years, but we’re doing it again this year.
The biggest part is the bird photo contest. You can submit a photo. We have eight categories that run for about two weeks for each category. Right now, ours first category is birds with food or at the feeder. So if you have a picture of a bird with food or at a feeder, submit it and we will pick winners at the end of next week.
There’s a judge’s choice that Emma and I will pick, and a people’s choice. So there’s a voting button for all of the pictures in the gallery, vote for your favorites and we will award the person with the most votes the prize for each category. And at the end, we take all of these weekly winners and put them in a grand prize contest. So that’s the biggest part.
We also have a data entry contest. So when you submit data for FeederWatch, this is just for participants, FeederWatch sorry, the BirdSpotter contest for photos is open to anybody. But the data entry side is when you finish entering your count on the website, there’ll be a little button that pops up and asks you to tell us a story, according to one of our prompts. So, that will pop up as soon as you’re done submitting a count.
And we also have a third part of the BirdSpotter contest for classrooms. So I just posted something actually on the FeederWatch Facebook page today, and announcing the “FeederWatch in the Classroom” contest. If you participate with your class, if you’re a teacher or educator, fill out the form. We will pick random winners over the course of the season, with a highlight on our blog and our Facebook page.
So that’s a lot of information, go to the FeederWatch website and under the community tab, you’ll find our BirdSpotter contest, with all of these details all written out for you.
>>Chelsea: Great, thank you so much, that’s an exciting way to get people involved in not only counting their birds but submitting story about what they see and learn about FeederWatch and also having kids involved, that’s super fun.
>>Chelsea: All right, folks, it is 1:00, I want to thank Emma and Holly so much for joining us today. And good luck with the rest of the FeederWatch season, I hope that this has generated a lot of interest and people sign up and get involved if they aren’t already. I know we have a lot of FeederWatchers watching right now, so that’s really great too.
If we didn’t get to your questions today — and I know we didn’t get to all of them or even many of them — you can e mail us and ask your questions. For general questions about bird ID, or programs at the Lab, you can e mail CornellBirds@Cornell.edu . And I’ll be e mailing you these addresses later today, too. So CornellBirds@Cornell.edu . And if you have a FeederWatch question, it’s PFWOnline@Cornell.edu . So FeederWatch questions and any bird questions, we are happy to try to help answer those.
And remember to sign up for FeederWatch if you haven’t already.
And so, Emma and Holly, thanks again, this was so fun. And thanks to our audience.
>>Emma: Yes, thank you very much for doing this, and it has been fun. And I’m so glad to see so much enthusiasm about backyard birds, it’s so great.
>>Holly: Same here. It’s been a pleasure.
>>Chelsea: Alright. Thanks everybody for watching, and happy FeederWatching everybody! Bye.
>>Emma: Bye bye.End of transcript
Feeding birds sounds so simple! Did you know observing birds at your feeder can lead to new scientific discoveries? Project FeederWatch’s Dr. Emma Greig and Holly Faulkner will be on hand to get you ready to feed birds this winter and contribute to science by answering questions about feeders, foods, and the birds that frequent our yards.