THROUGH THE WOODS: Cornell FeederWatch Program tracks backyard birds

A dark-eyed junco on snow. Photo by Nancy Jane Kern

THE CORNELL LABORATORY OF ORNITHOLOGY’s Project Feederwatch bird survey program began this week on November 1, 2022, and continues through April 29, 2023. In my yard, the approach of colder weather was confirmed by the arrival of small flocks of dark-eyed Juncos (slate-colored). I admire these little birds in their tuxedo-like feathers, but their first sightings always make me shiver. Cold weather is coming. I have scattered cracked corn and seed on the ground for them and they are gobbling it up, exhibiting their hunger after their travel down from Canada and parts of the Adirondacks where they nested during the summer.

The bears may not be in hibernation yet, so some old feeders will be put up for a while to see what happens. It is good to take feeders in before dark and put them back out at breakfast time. I am a proud supporter of Cornell’s research on birds and this will be my 20th year participating in this Citizen Science experience. The FeederWatch Program requires a 6-month commitment, but if you will be unable to do it for the whole winter this is okay. You only have to count birds on two days a week for a few hours, which makes it easy. Any data that can be collected is very important. The Cornell Lab says in its press release, “One backyard at a time, participants in Project FeederWatch are doing their part to unravel nature’s mysteries—simply by sharing information about the birds that visit their feeders.”

New participants can join at any time. People of all ages and skill levels can be FeederWatchers and do their part to help researchers better understand trends in bird populations. Participants count the numbers and different species of birds at a specific time, once a week at their feeders, and enter the information on the FeederWatch website at

By collecting information from all these feeders in all these backyards, scientists at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology are able to track patterns in bird populations and movement from year to year all across North America. “By engaging the public we are able to pick up fluctuations that could be the result of climate change, habitat destruction, disease or other environmental factors,” said the project leader. “These are large-scale changes that we would not be able to see without the massive amount of data we receive from our participants. Keeping an eye out in your own backyard can make a difference.”

I love our birds and greatly enjoy this easy at-home winter project. I don’t have to travel, waste gasoline and can sit inside with a nice hot cup of coffee and look out the windows. You can’t beat the entertainment; learn, and be a scientist too!

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