Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Project FeederWatch

This weekend we will begin a winter-long science project that we discovered last year. Project FeederWatch is a simple, international project in which citizens record and submit their observations of the birds in their area to a single website. The results are then analyzed by scientists, who then use the data to monitor the movements and populations of different bird species across North America. The best part of this project? Anyone can participate, including “children, families, individuals, classrooms, retired persons, youth groups, nature centers, and bird clubs.”

The number of birdwatchers across the nation is somewhat surprising. According to a Fish & Wildlife Service survey, one in five Americans are identified as bird watchers, and in 2006, they contributed 36 BILLION dollars to the US economy.


Who knew there were that many people out there so curious and appreciative about nature? And an incredible number of families and individuals are taking joy in creating a haven in their backyards for wintering bird species.

Now, it is no secret that we are an animal-loving family. Not in an overly-mushy kind of way, mind you, but since both my husband and I met while working in the zoo field… well, you get the picture. And, though, my husband is the official bird genius of the family (I am just the all-around genius - period.), my children and I have been the ones to embrace the art of bird watching here at home. So naturally, one of the first things we did when we moved into our new house a few years ago, was set up a bird feeder (or two or three) outside our kitchen and dining room windows. Last winter I was tickled to identify so many different species at and around our feeder. And this past summer, we monitored over 19 nests of 10 different species through Project NestWatch (more about that next spring).

SO, it is with great anticipation that we prepare to begin our FeederWatch Project. There is a $15 participation fee ($12 for Lab members), but knowing that this awesome program is funded almost entirely by these fees, makes me happy, too. In return, the participants receive a “Research Kit.” You get the option to choose what type of kit you’d like. We chose the “online data entry” kit to save paper. It includes an information handbook with instructions, a sample tally sheet, a bird watching days calendar, and a double-sided bird identification poster. We also received a subscription to the Lab of Ornithology's newsletter, BirdScope. (Canadian participants, receive Bird Studies Canada's quarterly publication, BirdWatch Canada.)

Okay, so the main reason we participate in this project is because we are bird lovers. But I also love how well this project can be incorporated into my daughter’s curriculum. First of all, she loves the idea of being a “citizen scientist.” And I love how by involving her, I will be helping her to develop her skills of observation, organization, math, science, writing, reading, PATIENCE, and probably a whole bunch of other things.

There is a good section on Education/Homeschooling for you to explore, as well. And here's a Homeschooler's Guide to the project with extra activities related to birdwatching.

I’ll be writing about this whole process a lot more over the winter, so I hope you will enjoy our learning experience, and maybe even be inspired to join in and do some bird watching of your own. You’ll be surprised at the passion and excitement that watching animals can create in not only your children, but also in yourself.

If you’d like to learn more about this and other Cornell projects, hop over and visit their site.

Con mucho cariño…


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