Wildlife / Citizen scientists to track birds

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It's time for another season of Project FeederWatch, Cornell University's premier citizen science opportunity sponsored by the Lab of Ornithology. Anyone can participate.

"Our materials teach what participants need to know," said new FeederWatch project director Emma Grieg. "And volunteers don't need to identify every species they see. Even counts of cardinals and chickadees provide useful data."

Assuming you have suitable habitat with at least a few trees and shrubs for cover, you can expect up to 20 species over the course of the winter. Based on data submitted from 5,941 northeastern sites last year, the most commonly seen species were chickadees (black-capped or Carolina), dark-eyed juncos, downy woodpeckers, mourning doves and northern cardinals.

One of the virtues of FeederWatch is its ability to detect long-term trends. The abundance of woodpeckers and nuthatches last year, for example, seems associated with a new food source. Emerald ash borers, a non-native beetle that is devastating forests from Michigan to Pennsylvania to New York, provide a nearly unlimited food source for downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers and white-breasted nuthatches.

Launched in 1987, Project FeederWatch compiles information gathered by volunteers from all across North America. Last year 127,210 checklists were submitted by 20,569 participants who reported 7,308,691 individual birds. No special knowledge is required because the materials provided to volunteers include posters that facilitate bird identification.

To become a FeederWatch volunteer, visit www.feederwatch.org, call 800-843 2473, or send a check to Project FeederWatch, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, P.O. Box 11, Ithaca, N.Y., 14851-0011. The $15 fee ($12 for Lab of Ornithology members) covers all materials, data analysis, and publication of each year's results.

If FeederWatch sounds interesting, but for some reason you cannot set up bird feeders, I have great news. Thanks to an internet-based feeder cam (http://cams.allaboutbirds.org/channel/38/FeederWatch_Cam/), you can watch live video from a feeding station in northern Ontario. It features a variety of northern species, including gray jays. You can also follow feeder cameras on Twitter.

Listen to biologist, author, and broadcaster Scott Shalaway 8 to 10 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 WVLY-AM (Wheeling) or online at www.wvly.net. Visit his website www.drshalaway.com or email sshalaway@aol.com or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.

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