Now that the frenzy of the holidays is over and the weather has turned cold for even diehard gardeners, you can enjoy and support your local feathered friends with some “armchair conservation.”
Maybe you got a birdbath or birdfeeder for Christmas. Now’s the time to put them out. Or if you’re a lazy (and smart!) gardener like me, you’ve got seed heads from your flowers and ornamental grasses still standing and fallen leaves still lying in your beds. If you leave it, they will come!
Birds are highly attracted to seeds and berries in the winter and will spend hours hunting for any remaining insects taking cover in leaf litter. Just before our latest dip below freezing, I had several different species in the backyard: dark-eyed juncos, blue jays, yellow-rumped warblers, chickadees, cardinals, wrens, house finches, a ruby-crowned kinglet, mockingbirds, goldfinches, cedar waxwings, and even bluebirds. In addition to emptying my feeders, they were chowing down on the crapemyrtle seedheads and yaupon holly berries, sifting through leaf mulch, and taking turns in the bird baths, which were not frozen yet. It’s like they knew the Arctic blast was coming.
All of which reminded me that the famous Cornell Lab of Ornithology has sponsored “Project FeederWatch” since the 1970s. The mission of Project FeederWatch is to collect observations between November and April from as many people in North America as possible so that scientists can track bird populations and long-term trends in their distribution and abundance.
Anyone can participate and you don’t have to be an expert in bird identification. Make as many or as few observations as you can manage. For a nominal fee, participants get an observation kit complete with instructions, feeding tips, and a beautiful identification poster. You supply the feeder, plantings, and/or water sources that attract birds. You simply note what birds, how many, and when/where they were observed. (I won’t tell if your observations are made from an indoor, toasty vantage point!) Once the data are uploaded, the scientists sort and analyze all of the observations and prepare various reports that are available on the Project FeederWatch website.
Winter doesn’t always bring frigid weather in North Texas but when it does, don’t forget our feathered friends. Food and water are welcome when not available naturally. And you can continue to contribute to conservation activities on their behalf from the comfort of your living room window with citizen science projects such as Project FeederWatch or the Great Backyard Bird Count (in February). Birds are a vital part of our food web and supporting them now in the dead of winter will yield further benefit to our outdoor environment in the coming months.