Now that we're well into 2009-10 Project FeederWatch season, I thought I might take a look at my PFW data over the past 5 years and see what the information might be telling me from my own non-scientific point of view. And if any of my friends from the project happen upon this post and care to offer any of their thoughts, I'd be eternally indebted!
I have records for the last five PFW seasons, starting with 2004-05. So first I'll start off with a list of the 36 species of birds that have been included in my PFW counts. Alongside each bird is the highest individual count of that bird that has been recorded, as well as the year that high count was recorded. For simplicity purposes, I'm putting them in alphabetical order:
|4||American Tree Sparrow||2||2007|
|9||Brown headed Cowbird||2||2006|
|29||Red bellied Woodpecker||1||2009|
|31||Red winged Blackbird||10||2007|
From my perspective, there are some wildly high counts here, either in terms of crowded feeders (jays, doves), amazing activity (chickadees, redpolls, juncos), or sheer gratitude (evening grosbeaks):
- 26 Black-capped Chickadees
- 25 Blue Jays
- 200 Common Redpolls
- 82 Dark-eyed Juncos
- 30 Evening Grosbeaks (high in today's standards)
- 19 Mourning Doves
I'm fortunate in my yard in the foothills of the Adirondacks to not have many starlings or cowbirds, and to have never seen a house sparrow or pigeon. The altitude, latitude, and habitat also grace me with amazing birds like the grosbeaks, year-round juncos and Red-breasted Nuthatches, Common Ravens, and one year, a Northern Goshawk.
But those same features also mean that such common PFW birds such as Northern Cardinals and increasingly common birds like the Red-bellied Woodpecker or Carolina Wren are rare or absent in my yard. Common summer birds like the Purple Finch also become rare here in winter months.
Here's some other interesting numbers summarizing my PFW season, showing high and average species and individual bird counts:
|High Species Count||12||15||15||14||17||14.6|
|Ave Species Count||10||11.5||12||11||13.8|
|Ave Indiv. Count||35||68||77||102||77|
The biennial irruption of Common Redpolls shows through in the High Individual Count tallies. Irruptive years were 2005-06 and 2007-08. Here's my high redpoll counts each year; you can see the impact they have on Individual Bird counts:
04-05 05-06 06-07 07-08 08-09
Redpoll High Ct 14 120 0 200 7
So, with no redpolls, what contributed to the 2006-07 high individual count (average 77)? Dark-eyed Juncos. As I mentioned before, these are year-round birds for us but that winter, we had tons of them! Their numbers started to climb in January with my highest count on a PFW day being 82. But on April 12, 2007, after PFW had concluded, I had 166 Dark-eyed Juncos in my yard.
They were everywhere - on the ground of course, but even clinging to feeders they normally don't frequent like peanut feeders and suet logs. It was amazing.
What I like that I see in the chart above is a very nice upward trend over the years in the number of species (almost doubled!) and in the sheer number of birds. What has changed here? As the years have gone by, we've increased the variety in our birdfood choices and the way we present it:
- Lots of variety in the foods we provide - many different types of loose seeds (black oil and striped sunflower, sunflower chips, safflower, niger) straight up and in blends; peanuts in and out of the shells; seed/nut/fruit cylinders, and a variety of suet
- Variety in how we present the food - tube feeders and hopper feeders, suet logs, mesh feeders, open tray feeders, window feeders
We have a diverse habitat and a chemical-free yard, no outdoor cats, and lots of shelter for the birds. We provide water for the birds year-round, using a heated birdbath during the winter. We keep the feeders fairly clean and watch for sick birds, like when salmonella passed through some siskins in late winter last year.
American Robin on heated bird bath
I guess this steady increase in the number of birds and the variety of birds in my yard shows is that in any given habitat/yard and from any given starting point, you CAN grow the birds that visit.
If you this type of bird count information, please consider joining Project FeederWatch (count weekly from November through March). Or you may want to start your citizen science journey by participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count, which is coming up February 12-15, 2010. And you can read about my PFW and GBBC counts on The Zen Birdfeeder by clicking on the Project FeederWatch/eBird/GBBC link in the Categories list on the left side of the blog.