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Bird Watchers in Alaska Can Help Track Impact of Climate Change
Participants aid scientists by counting feeder birds


October 04, 2007

Ithaca, NY - Bird watchers in Alaska can help chart the impact of global climate change on feeder birds-and have fun at the same time. Participants in Project FeederWatch, a citizen science project based at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, have already documented changes in the distribution and numbers of feeder birds over the 20-year history of the project. Anyone can contribute observations during the winter months. Combined with reports from across the state, the information can help reveal trends in bird populations that may be linked to climate change.

"Changes in temperatures are greatest near the poles, so Alaska is feeling the effects of climate change more rapidly than the rest of the United States," said ornithologist and project leader David Bonter. "Temperature changes will certainly influence the distribution and abundance of birds across the state." Bonter said that some species may already be lingering in Alaska in the winter when they should be migrating to points south. One FeederWatcher in Homer recorded Cedar Waxwings and a Lincoln's Sparrow last winter, and a Mourning Dove visited a FeederWatch site in Wrangell. These species are typically found to the south of those locations in winter. Although individual birds are often found in unexpected locations, milder winter temperatures may allow these lost individuals to survive. Over time, shifts in the distributions of birds may result.

Participants from across Alaska periodically count the birds at their bird feeders for Project FeederWatch. Comparing those reports with data collected over the 20-year history of the program, researchers found that last winter was a poor one for Pine Siskins in Alaska, with only 17% of the 45 participants seeing siskins. Reports of this small finch vary considerably from year to year-more than half of the FeederWatchers in Alaska have reported siskins in some previous seasons. If the historic "boom or bust" pattern of siskin reports continues, the coming winter should bring plenty of these finches to feeders in the state. With the help of more backyard bird watchers from across Alaska, researchers hope to better understand trends in the abundance and distribution of siskins and other birds.

The 21st season of Project FeederWatch gets underway in November and runs through early April 2008. Anyone in the United States and Canada can participate, and all ages and skill levels are welcome. To learn more about Project FeederWatch or to register, visit or call the Lab toll-free at (800) 843-2473. In return for the $15 fee ($12 for Lab members) new participants receive the FeederWatcher's Handbook, an identification poster of the most common feeder birds, a calendar, complete instructions, and the publication Winter Bird Highlights featuring project results.

"FeederWatchers across Alaska have helped create the world's largest database of feeder-bird populations," says David Bonter. "To understand the effects of global climate change and other factors on birds, we need new and veteran participants alike to keep reporting their observations now and well into the future."

Top 10 birds reported by FeederWatchers in Alaska in 2007:

01) Common Redpoll
02) Black-capped Chickadee
03) Pine Grosbeak
04) Downy Woodpecker
05) Hairy Woodpecker
06) Black-billed Magpie
07) Red-breasted Nuthatch
08) Boreal Chickadee
09) Common Raven
10) Dark-eyed Junco

On the Web:

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a membership institution dedicated to interpreting and conserving the earth's biological diversity through research, education, and citizen science focused on birds. Visit the Lab's web site at .


Source of News:

Cornell Lab of Ornitholog


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Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska