Another season of the Indiana Audubon Society Winter Bird Feeder Count wrapped up last week. Although a quick look outside indicates that it is still winter in northern Indiana, frequently hearing the songs of Northern Cardinal, Tufted Titmouse, and Song Sparrow leads me to believe that spring is just around the corner.
Downy Woodpecker (male)
Feeder watchers all around the state participate in the Winter Bird Feeder Count, which is conducted by recording the maximum number of individuals at one time of each species present at feeders during the four count periods (November 20-25, December 20-25, January 20-25, and February 20-25). Hawks showing interest in feeder birds are also counted.
At our feeders during the count this winter, we saw 15 species during the November period, 17 species during the December period, 19 species during the January period, and 18 species during the February period, for a total of 21 species during the count (our complete species list from the 2009-2010 count is shown at the end of this post).
Dark-eyed Junco (male)
Species observed most frequently (those present during all four count periods) in 2009-2010 were Mourning Dove, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Black-capped Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, European Starling, American Tree Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco, Northern Cardinal, American Goldfinch, and House Sparrow. Species observed in greatest abundance (with the greatest number observed at one time in parentheses) were American Crow (27 in December), Northern Cardinal (18 in February), American Goldfinch (18 in January), House Sparrow (16 in December), Mourning Dove (14 in November), and American Tree Sparrow (12 in January).
American Goldfinch and House Sparrow (male)
Our numbers were off a bit from what we saw during the 2008-2009 Winter Bird Feeder Count. During that count, we had 19 species in November, 20 species in December, 18 species in January, and 25 species in February, for a total of 27 species during the 2008-2009 count period. Species we missed out on this year that we saw last year were Red-winged Blackbird, Rusty Blackbird, Common Grackle, Common Redpoll, Pine Siskin, and Snow Bunting. The more northern species (Common Redpoll and Pine Siskin) never made a strong appearance in Indiana this winter as a result of having sufficient food sources available further north. We had one Red-winged Blackbird show up our feeders this winter, but he showed up between count periods and didn't hang around more than a few days. Temperatures during the 2008-2009 count (-10 to 55 degrees Farenheit) varied more than during the 2009-2010 count (20-58 degrees Farenheit), and the very cold temperatures in December 2008 could have caused Snow Buntings to show up on our property to eat the cracked corn we had scattered along our driveway while many of the agricultural fields and roadsides in our area were frozen solid. It was also warmer in February 2009 than in February 2010, possibly leading to an earlier northward migration in 2009 (and causing Red-winged Blackbird, Rusty Blackbird, and Common Grackle to use our feeders earlier than they have in 2010). The number of individuals at our feeders was higher in 2008-2009 as well, possibly the result of very cold temperatures in December 2008 and January 2009.
Citizen science projects such as this are important for several reasons. It is good to keep the general public involved in scientific research to promote higher interest in scientific work. It is also much more economically feasible for researchers to obtain important data when volunteer involvement is part of the project. There are obviously drawbacks to obtaining data from volunteers that must be addressed by the researcher. I encourage everyone to participate in citizen science research projects, such as Christmas Bird Counts, the Great Backyard Bird Count, International Migratory Bird Day, FrogWatch USA, the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, New York City Cricket Crawl, Project BudBurst, etc. No matter what your interest or location, there is likely a citizen science project for you.
Northern Cardinals (male and female) and American Tree Sparrow
2010 Winter Feeder Count Species List
American Tree Sparrow