When a redheaded woodpecker swooped down and perched on a bird feeder, the small group gathered at Indian Creek Nature Center exclaimed in delight. With its helmet of shiny, bright red feathers, the woodpecker stood out from the other birds flitting from feeder to feeder outside the Nature Center’s bird watching room. And it meant the group could add another name to their list.
They were participating in Project FeederWatch, a citizen scientist effort that gathers information on bird populations across North America with the help of volunteer bird watchers. Indian Creek joined the project this year, and now several times a month staff and volunteers track the birds that flock to their feeders.
For two hours on Tuesday, they marked down the birds they saw. The list will go to the Project FeederWatch headquarters, to be compiled with similar lists from watchers around the country, all helping create a picture of North America’s feathered population.
“We feel it is our duty, really, to participate in things like this,” Indian Creek naturalist Andria Cossolotto said. “It’s a great way to contribute.”
Though this is the first year Indian Creek has participated at their new Amazing Space building, organization staff and volunteers had participated in the past, and Project FeederWatch has been around since 1987. Operated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada, the project has more than 20,000 participants across the United States and Canada.
That much data helps scientists track bird population fluctuations and shifts in habitat over time. Some bird ranges have been shifting in response to changing climate patterns, others due to loss of habitat.
There are real world examples of how the data has helped. Project FeederWatch data from Florida, for example, alerted scientists to a declining painted bunting population there, which led to efforts to protect them.
“It heavily relies on citizens to turn in data,” Cossolotto said.
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On Tuesday she tallied bird spots on a board with the help of volunteer teacher-naturalists Tom Cleveland and Annie Kregel, both of Cedar Rapids.
“You can have a big impact with just some simple things, just by observing,” Cleveland said.
Participants track birds at the same spot, two days in a row, throughout the winter. Rather than try to keep track of how many birds they see in total, they mark down the highest number of each species they see at one time around the feeders. Anyone with a bird feeder can join Project FeederWatch. It costs a small fee to join, which helps fund the project.
“It’s a nice thing to do on a very cold, snowy afternoon,” Kregel said. “It’s relaxing, and it’s just enjoyable to learn about the different birds.”
At Indian Creek, any age and skill level can show up to help spot. The bird watching room, which is open to the public whenever the Nature Center is open, is equipped with bird identification guides and binoculars.
The room, which features floor to ceiling windows facing clusters of bird feeders, is equipped with Ornilux glass, designed to prevent birds from flying into the windows. The glass has a fine spider web pattern that humans can only see when standing up close and looking at the glass from a certain angle. For bird eyes, however, it is a visible warning not to fly into the glass.
Outside the room, microphones pick up the chirps and calls from the flocks outside, which are piped into speakers in the room. On Tuesday, observers saw more than just the song birds. Deer wandered by, and multiple bald eagles soared over the trees.
“The main goal with this room was to have a space for the public to come anytime to enjoy nature,” Indian Creek Nature Center marketing and development manager Lindsey Flannery said. “It’s been really fun to see people come and get engaged with it and get excited about it.”
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Anyone is welcome to participate in Project FeederWatch at Indian Creek Nature Center. No registration is required, and participants can come and go as they are able. Project FeederWatch continues through April, and further dates may be added. Find more information at indiancreeknaturecenter.org.
Upcoming times are:
l Noon to 2 p.m. Jan. 10, Jan. 17, Jan. 24, Jan. 25, Feb. 1, Feb. 7, Feb. 8, Feb. 15 and Feb. 22: noon to 2 p.m.
l 10 a.m. to noon Jan. 11
l 9 to 11 a.m. Jan. 18, Jan. 31, Feb. 14 and Feb. 21