After finishing my second week of Project FeederWatch, I tallied the sad results and came up with only 6 species and 17 individual birds over the two-day count. It made me wonder what my counts have looked like in Week 2 of previous years and how those years turned out overall.
Bird activity has been very slow at my birdfeeders this fall, the product of a wet spring and warm summer that has provided wildlife, including birds, with a lot of natural food to feast upon. This Week 2 (during the 3rd week of November), I had only Black-capped Chickadees (albeit a fair number of them - 9), American Goldfinches (3), Mourning Doves (2), and one each of Red-breasted Nuthatch, Blue Jay, and Dark-eyed Junco.
This second week was even slower than my first week, when I had 9 species and 36 individual birds visit my yard. Oh, make that 35 individuals - I lost a Downy Woodpecker to a Cooper's Hawk that day. :(
Prior Years' 2nd Week Tallies
2004-05 8 species, 19 individuals
2005-06 10 species, 51 individuals
2006-07 11 species, 41 individuals
2007-08 11 species, 53 individuals
2008-09 16 species, 64 individuals
2009-10 10 species, 92 individuals
2010-11 10 species, 28 individuals
2011-12 9 species, 47 individuals
2012-13 11 species, 59 individuals
Average 10.7 species, 50 individuals
2013-14 6 species, 17 individuals
Not only is the diversity of birds below average, the sheer number of birds at the feeders is way below average.
The yard "regulars" that are MIA include White Breasted Nuthatches, Hairy Woodpeckers, and Downy Woodpeckers. I haven't seen a Hairy Woodpecker in weeks! And the birds here in smaller numbers than usual are the Blue Jays, Mourning Doves, and Dark-eyed Juncos.
In other years, some of these week 2 counts have included some migrants such as Fox Sparrows and Common Grackles, as well as some uncommon birds to my yard like Ruffed Grouse and Cedar Waxwings.
The other two PFW seasons that had lower than average Week 2 counts were 2004-05 and 2011-12.
2004-05 finished with a high species count of 12 (average of 10) and a high individual count of 68 (average of 35) with 15 different species visiting over the season. That season may have been influenced by the fact that we were just then getting into the heavy birdfeeding in our yard and it was my first year counting.
2011-12 finished with a high species count of 15 (average of 8.1) and a high individual count of 94 (average of 51) with 17 different species visiting over the season.
Both these seasons finished below the average PFW counts (over 9 seasons) of 11 species and 71 individuals.
If I were to use this history as a predictor of what the remaining 13-17 counts might be, I would say that this will be a BELOW AVERAGE Project FeederWatch season at my birdfeeders here in upstate New York. I will see not only fewer species but many fewer total birds. To add to this grim prediction, Ron Pittaway's Winter Finch Forecast suggests that we won't see Pine Siskins or Common Redpolls in our area this winter because of plentiful natural food sources up in Canada.
My lesson here is that natural foods always trump the birdfeeders. Birds will return to birdfeeders when natural foods are either covered up by snow/ice or when those foods are depleted. Birds move to where the natural foods are plentiful.
Another important point is that I should (and will) continue my Project FeederWatch counts even during slow count periods. The REAL scientists who know what they're doing will add my counts to all the thousands of others that come in and make sense of it all. Here's what they say on the Project FeederWatch instructions:
"Remember if no birds visit your feeders, this information is important. The only way scientists know when birds are missing is if the people seeing no or very few birds tell us."
So I'll continue to count and continue to enter data, and hope my predictions are wrong. Either way, I'll take great joy in the few birds I'm seeing out my window this winter.
ps: My final point to this post is the realization that I'm a real nerd. But a real nerd untrained in math, or statistics, or science, which makes me a dangerous nerd. But thanks for reading anyway!