Citizen Science: Best Hope for Songbird Survival?

Goldfinches and Mourning Doves visiting some of my backyard bird feeders.
Goldfinches and Mourning Doves visiting some of my backyard bird feeders. | Source

Earlier that day I had decided that my ‘watch’ would begin at 11:00 am, and I logged that starting time on a blank sheet of notebook paper. I wanted to participate all four days, so I added the date at the top of the page. My location was the next entry, and then the temperature and overcast conditions. It was time again to begin my Great Backyard Bird Count, and I knew that data entry needed to be accurate and complete if it was going to be of any help to the researchers.

Male Downy Woodpecker relishing suet.
Male Downy Woodpecker relishing suet. | Source
Blue Jay at the gazebo-style bird feeder.
Blue Jay at the gazebo-style bird feeder. | Source
Black-Capped Chickadees, among others, enjoy the metal mesh bird seed feeders.
Black-Capped Chickadees, among others, enjoy the metal mesh bird seed feeders. | Source

Get Comfy and Start Counting Birds

I grabbed my binoculars and found a comfy spot from which to make my 15 minutes of observation on this cold February day. That’s all I intended to spend counting bird feeder birds that day.

I jotted down each species as I began spotting several of the usual bird feeder suspects. Let’s see: 2 downy woodpeckers, 1 male and 1 female; 6 cute little chickadees—gotta love those little guys; 5 white-breasted nuthatches; 3 gorgeous blue jays; oh, and there’s one of my sweet tufted titmice.

But, wait a minute, what the heck is that little brown bird? That’s not a sparrow, what is it?

Refocusing my binocs revealed a bird I had heard of but never seen before. It was a Common Redpoll! Oh, but there are several more that just flew in, and then more, and then more yet. I counted 35 in that one flock! I was thrilled right down to my knee socks!

Female Common Redpoll fluffed up against the cold air.
Female Common Redpoll fluffed up against the cold air. | Source

Have You Ever Participated in a Citizen Science Project?

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Are You a Bird Nerd?

I have to explain something here. If you happen to be a bird nerd like me, then you can skip over this explanation. You know exactly how I felt. But if you are not ‘into birds’, then to a bird lover, seeing a new species is akin to winning the lottery. It’s a happy bolt out of the blue, like Nature just gave you a big hug!

Common Redpolls are small, chatty, and friendly members of the finch family of songbirds. To me they were anything but common as I watched them with delight. The large flocks busied themselves scouring the snow under my bird feeders.

They wore distinctive red caps, and their ebony chins created a sharp contrast to yellow beaks. The males were easy to spot as they proudly sported decorative pink chests! My gratitude to the creator of the Great Backyard Bird Count knew no bounds!

Steep Decline of Bird Species

Over the past 4 decades, many of our birds have been in a steep decline. Some have decreased by as much as 80%. Environmental factors, urban sprawl, modern industrialized farming, wind farms, habitat loss and fragmentation as well as deforestation have all contributed to the disappearance of once common bird species like the Whip-poor-will, Evening Grosbeak, Horned Lark, Greater Scaup, Northern Bobwhite and Ruffed Grouse.

Top 20 Common Birds in Decline: http://birds.audubon.org/species-by-program/cbid

Those initial sightings multiplied threefold in the next several days. My 15 minutes of observation had stretched into several hours, which were broken up between household chores, making meals and checking emails, etc. Every chance I got I eagerly drank in the sights and sounds of these new-to-me gregarious avian visitors.

They happily filled the bare tree branches with cheery chattering, and punctuated the white snow as they investigated every possible morsel of food. I was vigilant about keeping those feeders well filled so as to make my new friends as welcome as possible. I would have been very sad if they had departed before I had the chance to get to know them.


One of the many flocks of Redpolls I happily observed and reported during the GBBC.
One of the many flocks of Redpolls I happily observed and reported during the GBBC. | Source

A Memorable Great Backyard Bird Count

Weed seed heads were quickly ‘shaken, not stirred’ by the energetic invaders. As fast as the seeds fell off the weeds, that’s how fast they retrieved their treasures. I could tell by their happy, tiny trills and constant chet-chet calls that they were having a blast. They seemed to be making a game out of finding food, and as I watched them I secretly wished I could enjoy grocery shopping that much!

I finished all 4 day’s observations, again noting the dates and times in my notebook, along with temperature and weather conditions. This particular GBBC had become one of the most memorable for me, even though I have been participating for many years. My usual winter birdfeeder gang sort of sank into the background in the midst of the Redpoll irruption. Turning in my tallies to the GBBC website was done with great eagerness.

My very short Red Poll video

Goodbye and Come Again!

The Red Polls’ slow departure seemed to ease me into the reality that they would not be with me any longer this year. I knew they couldn’t stay, just like ‘Frosty the Snowman’; but I hoped they’d be back again someday. Somehow these diminutive birds had warmed the winter chill and hastened the demise of what usually seemed like interminably cold months.

Helping Researchers Help Our Birds

Had I not participated in this important citizen science Audubon project, I would have missed this happy experience! Many ordinary people are making extraordinary strides in helping researchers count, map habitats, and determine the health of songbird populations worldwide. This popular yearly event has grown by leaps and bounds.

We as citizen scientists have done so much more than the dedicated scientists and researchers could have accomplished on their own. From the data we have gathered, Audubon and Cornell Lab of Ornithology researchers have been able to effectively craft programs that are geared to help waning worldwide bird populations rebound; and to keep others healthy. Anyone can participate anywhere in the world in the GBBC’s annual event in February.

Project Feederwatch is a program exclusive to North America whereby you can monitor your bird feeders from November through April, and then report your sightings. You will receive a research kit, which contains all you need to know to participate.

This is great fun for people of all ages, from school children to bird clubs, retirees and individuals from all walks of life. Amateur backyard bird observers to experienced devotees are all welcome. The more information we can add to the data bases, the better able our scientists and researchers can serve wild birds everywhere.

Young White-Breasted Nuthatch waiting its turn at the bird feeders.
Young White-Breasted Nuthatch waiting its turn at the bird feeders. | Source

Become a Citizen Scientist

I believe we as citizen scientists have been and will continue to be instrumental in bird survival through the vital individual observations in our own backyards. We are the future of the success of our precious wild birds. Join us in making an enormous difference to our awesome birds!

Connie Smith a/k/a Grandma Pearl
Connie Smith a/k/a Grandma Pearl | Source

'You can create yard and garden habitats that Help Birds Survive and Thrive'

Read more by visiting grandmapearl.hubpages.com; and

Join me at GrandmaPearlsBackporch to discover more about wildlife in general, and birds in particular.

More by this Author


Are You a Citizen Scientist? 30 comments

pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 2 years ago from sunny Florida

hi Connie

I am a bird nerd to a certain extent. I love to watch them at play but do not know the name of many of them. Definitely need to brush up on my nerdiness...It is a wonderful thing that those who love birdies are becoming Citizen Scientists....anything to help protect these lovelies.

Angels are on the way...and Merry Christmas to YOU. ps


The Examiner-1 profile image

The Examiner-1 2 years ago

grandmapearl,

You have another 'bird nerd' here but I still had to read the entire Hub. What interesting photos(!) and an interesting Hub. I love the shot of the chickadees - since that is one of my two favorite birds, the timouse is the other. :-)

I have heard of 'Backyard Bird Count' but when you asked about 'Citizen Science Project' I had never heard of that. I probably would have done well in that count when I lived in NJ because I just started bird watching, but I had not heard of the Backyard Count back then.

Kevin


billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

Well my friend, if you are a nerd then the world needs more nerds. I loved your introduction; I love the spirit of this message; I love your compassion and desire to help our feathered friends.

Merry Christmas my friend.


srsddn profile image

srsddn 2 years ago from Dehra Dun, India

grandmapearl, I appreciate your love for wildlife. Birds attract me a lot and the redpolls are really cute. I was born and brought up in a village where I found birds in plenty. I found a great change during the last five decades and I was shocked to see that the grains that I spread in my gallery remained untouched for 2-3 days in the city house where I am staying now. Many environmental factors including mobile towers (they say) are responsible for this change. Well, thanks for sharing and introducing the concept of citizen scientists which can go a long way in ensuring survival of the birds. Wish you a Merry Christmas.


FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

Grandma Pearl, I love your enthusiasm for birding and the fact that you as a citizen find a way to help, both by feeding and by counting. Those photos are splendid. Keep doing what you do. It is beautiful. Sharing this, voted up and more, pinning.


electronician profile image

electronician 2 years ago from Birmingham, England

I love the idea of citizen science and this sounds like a lovely project to get involved in - just wish I had a garden and I might consider it myself, but all I see is magpies and pigeons from my apartment. Voted up and shared.


bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 2 years ago from Central Florida

Pearl, the Red Polls are beautiful. I can just imagine your excitement when they visited your yard.

I have a bird in my jasmine that I haven't seen before. It's kind of a grayish blue and is always alone. She comes up several times a day to nestle inside an area of the jasmine that has been overtaken with puff plants. I'm thinking she may have a nest in there. When she comes up, she's well-hidden from the predatory birds, but I always happen to see her. She sits in one spot and just kind of looks around. Very cool. I'm afraid to get too close to her to snap a picture because I don't want to spook her. I just enjoy having her here.


grandmapearl profile image

grandmapearl 2 years ago from Southern Tier New York State Author

pstraubie, I'm pleased to know you are a bird nerd like me! It really doesn't matter that you don't know what species your birds are. What matters is that you appreciate and love watching them. I'm sure your bird nerdiness has made an impression on your family members as well. The more bird nerds in the world, the better!

Christmas Angels are always welcome here! I send you beautiful and loving Christmas Angels with a message for a Very Merry Christmas, my friend ;) Pearl


grandmapearl profile image

grandmapearl 2 years ago from Southern Tier New York State Author

bravewarrior, I would love to see a picture of your special jasmine-loving bird. My camera isn't great, but it does have a fair optical zoom that helps me capture my birds without disrupting their activities. By the way, I have never heard of a puff plant--what is that?

I know that you are a bird enthusiast, and that you love all wildlife like me. Your comments are always interesting, and I love to read them. May you have a beautiful Christmas my friend ;) Pearl


grandmapearl profile image

grandmapearl 2 years ago from Southern Tier New York State Author

electronician, I'm so pleased you stopped by for a visit! Even though you may have a limited variety of birds in your area, you can still become a citizen scientist and add valuable data that helps the researchers determine the health and overall number of all bird populations.

I would love to see a magpie--I may have to come to England for a visit someday!

Thanks so much for your supportive comments, votes and share. Have a Very Happy Christmas ;) Pearl


grandmapearl profile image

grandmapearl 2 years ago from Southern Tier New York State Author

FlourishAnyway, thanks as always for your supportive comments. You make me feel very good about being a bird nerd! I'm pleased you enjoyed my photos. I really love capturing images of my birds for others to see as well. Thanks also for the shares, votes and pin; they are very much appreciated.

I hope you have a lovely and very Merry Christmas, my friend ;) Pearl


grandmapearl profile image

grandmapearl 2 years ago from Southern Tier New York State Author

srsddn, you are a kindred spirit indeed! We both enjoy observing wildlife, especially birds. I really miss those birds that were once common, and that have since all but disappeared. There are many factors responsible for the change, but there is hope that things can be reversed. The good news is that some changes are already starting to help, like more bird-friendly windows that have uv dots embedded. The birds see them and avoid deadly window collisions.

I'm very pleased that you enjoyed my article. Have a beautiful and happy Christmas ;) Pearl


grandmapearl profile image

grandmapearl 2 years ago from Southern Tier New York State Author

Billy, I'm very proud of my bird nerdiness! I come from a long line. My grandfather established a bird sanctuary right in our backyard when I was a kid. That happened to be a marshy area between our large rural yard and the cow pasture. It was loaded to the brim with all kinds of wonderfully energetic birds, as well as many other critters. I guess it's in my genes!

Sending you smiles for Christmas, since that's what you have given me, my friend.

Merry Christmas to you and Bev and all your family ;) Pearl


grandmapearl profile image

grandmapearl 2 years ago from Southern Tier New York State Author

Hi Kevin, I know you are a kindred 'bird nerd' spirit! Thanks for your supportive comments; you made me smile when you said chickadees are one of your favorites. They are mine as well. Something about their energy and friendly nature is very appealing.

I think you would make a most excellent Citizen Scientist. It is such a vital project, and it doesn't take much time at all; as little as 15 minutes on one or more of the 4 days of the GBBC count.

I'm sure you would enjoy contributing to the ever-increasing database.

Happy Holidays, my friend ;) Pearl


The Examiner-1 profile image

The Examiner-1 2 years ago

Happy Holidays to you to Pearl :-)'

Unfortunately I do not have a feeder in my yard right now. At this house rental I only open one door to go in/out, and I have all of the storm windows shut. It is to try to keep out the cold and as many insects as possible. :-(

In NJ I used to have more than one bird fountain, several feeders, bird gardens and a pond. The birds loved it all(!), and so did I.

Kevin


grandmapearl profile image

grandmapearl 2 years ago from Southern Tier New York State Author

Kevin, you must have had all kinds of birds visiting such a wonderful bird haven in your New Jersey home! I'll bet they miss you. Here's hoping you will soon be able to watch more birds once again. Despite the 8-degree temperatures this morning, my birds are out in force. I have always been amazed by their ability to adapt to all kinds of conditions.

Have a beautiful Christmas Day, my friend ;) Pearl


bravewarrior profile image

bravewarrior 2 years ago from Central Florida

Pearl, I don't know what the real name is but it's a plant that grows upright and gets red or white fuzzy puffs on them. They start out at what looks like a cluster of berries, then they open into fuzz balls. I'll try to remember to take a pic and email it to you.

Merry Christmas!


The Examiner-1 profile image

The Examiner-1 2 years ago

I used to have one feeder here Pearl. The string finally wore out and broke and the feeder fell. I picked up the feeder and the homemade baffle to set them on a patio chair. Now after it rains - which is often in the summer - I get to watch small birds (sparrows, wrens, chickadees, titmice...) take baths in it!

Kevin


The Examiner-1 profile image

The Examiner-1 2 years ago

electronician,

All that you need is one small window or tree feeder, them sit at a table on a balcony/patio and wait.


grandmapearl profile image

grandmapearl 2 years ago from Southern Tier New York State Author

bravewarrior, thanks in advance ;) Pearl


grandmapearl profile image

grandmapearl 2 years ago from Southern Tier New York State Author

Kevin, what a great way to recycle!

Thanks ;) Pearl


The Examiner-1 profile image

The Examiner-1 2 years ago

Thanks Pearl, it was an old pie pan and I figured instead of spending $20+ on a new one (and since I needed it right then) that maybe I could make one.

Kevin


aviannovice profile image

aviannovice 2 years ago from Stillwater, OK

Great work, Connie! When I retire, and have nobody to bother me, I will certainly get in on this activity. It was a good report in your area.


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 2 years ago from Wales

Another wonderful hub from you my dear friend and voted up for sure. I wish you the best of all in this new year ahead and our friendship I know will thrive !!

Lots of love to you from my little corner of Wales Pearl.

Eddy.


grandmapearl profile image

grandmapearl 2 years ago from Southern Tier New York State Author

Hi Deb, you will be an outstanding Citizen Science contributor! I can only imagine all the information that you will be adding to the databases, my friend!

;) Connie


grandmapearl profile image

grandmapearl 2 years ago from Southern Tier New York State Author

Dear Eddy, thank you for being such a supportive friend and fellow hubber. My wish for you this new year is that you reach for the stars and grab each one as it comes your way! You deserve the best of everything this world has to offer, my friend.

Love and Best Wishes to You ;)Pearl


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

This is great pearl, and what good idea! I love birds too, we have Red Kites living in the trees behind my property and I do tend to count them to see how many there are. at the moment I have clocked up at least 25! That's when people throw out food for them, and it's a lovely sight to see, voted up and shared! nell


pstraubie48 profile image

pstraubie48 2 years ago from sunny Florida

Just stopping in to say Happy New year.... I read and commented already but wanted you to know I do enjoy your hubs and am wishing you well.


grandmapearl profile image

grandmapearl 2 years ago from Southern Tier New York State Author

Hi Nell, those Red Kites must be a beautiful sight for sure. I know you have written about them, and I remember how pretty they are, but to have them living nearby where you can watch them is amazing!

Thanks so much for the votes and share, my friend ;) Pearl


grandmapearl profile image

grandmapearl 2 years ago from Southern Tier New York State Author

What a sweet lady you are! Thank you for your best wishes and your supportive New Year's message. Please know that you and your family are often in my thoughts, and I always enjoy reading your informative and heartfelt articles.

I have been working at my profession, which is quilting, because I got so far behind as I was paying more attention to writing than to earning a living! It has been hard for me to find time for both equally, so I apologize for not being around lately. Hopefully I will be better organized this year ;)Pearl

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