Bird Feeding for Science

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By Ernie Allison


There are many reasons people put bird feeders in their yard. Some like the idea of helping nature. Others like the look of the feeders and the birds that frequent them. What is not always considered is that bird feeders offer a unique opportunity to learn about birds themselves. There are a couple of different levels to this benefit, mainly concerning the knowledge to be acquired and its applications.

The Knowledge
The first thing you learn when undertaking bird feeding as a hobby is the type of food that birds eat. Different offerings attract different species. Some birds will be attracted to certain seeds and grains, others to suet, and others prefer berries, flowers, and other natural offerings.

Once you start getting avian visitors, you start to learn about their behavior. You see their eating habits, how they interact with each other, and their physical cues. If you pay attention, you’ll be able to tell when a bird is getting ready to take flight, which can be a great indicator of when to snap some priceless nature photos.

Some things you will learn not from observation, but from the curiosity that observation sparks. When you see a new species visit your bird feeder, you’ll want to find out why it’s there. You’ll want to know its migratory pattern, when you can expect to see it, which food it is attracted to, and how it will interact with your other regular visitors.

The Application
As interesting as bird watching can be, there are also some practical applications for the knowledge you acquire. Several organizations have citizen scientist programs that allow you to share your findings in ways that can add to existing knowledge and be put to use. Most big cities and several rural areas have local Audubon chapters where you can get involved with conservation issues.

Another great program is Project Feederwatch sponsored by Cornell University. Project Feederwatch is a winter survey in which back yard bird watchers record their sightings so that researchers can track and record migratory patterns. This is a great way to be involved in the advancement of scientific knowledge concerning birds. The participation fee includes a research kit with a bird identification chart and other great information for aspiring birders.

These are only a few of the benefits and opportunities that come with bird watching and feeding. There are of course photo opportunities, and the benefits your lawn and garden will have with regular visits from birds, keeping a natural rhythm of growth going.

Ernie Allison is a nature writer with a particular interest in birds. He is dedicated to use his writing skills to bring awareness to conservation issues concerning birds. To help further this mission, he writes for the hummingbird feeder provider,

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