counting birds with cornell’s ebird

copyright Leslie Jones from the Boston Public Liubrary CollectionI’LL TELL YOU MINE, if you tell me yours–and then how about we all tell eBird.org (or Project Feederwatch, or the Great Backyard Bird Count)? I’ve been counting birds as I do each winter, but I’ll admit to being lazy lately about recording my data. Which looks something like this most days this winter:

Garden visitors, average early January 2015 day:

  • 30 dark-eyed juncos
  • 11 goldfinches
  • 1 male Eastern bluebird
  • 3 Northern cardinals
  • 5 white-throated sparrows
  • 12 American robins
  • 7 mourning doves
  • 9 blue jays
  • 3 tufted titmice
  • 6 black-capped chickadees
  • 2 white-breasted nuthatches
  • 1 red-bellied woodpecker
  • 2 downy woodpeckers
  • 1 hairy woodpecker
  • 1 yellow-bellied sapsucker
  • 1 American crow (sitting in the magnolia outside the window on an exploratory mission of some sort, while his associates lurked noisily across the road, at the edge of a cornfield, where the whole gang usually conspires)

Late December:

  • subtract 12 robins and add 2 house finches

And two weeks before that:

  • add 3 stray purple finches
  • add 1 persistent red-tailed hawk (hoping to snack on smaller birds, though I am suggesting rodents, instead)

No turkeys have floated in over the fence lately, though I hear the occasional beating of wings that is a group taking flight from their roosts, and it has been so cold that I have been muffled inside, deprived from fullest enjoyment of the sound of the local barred owl. But I count them among my companions, if not officially.

Other sparrow species are certainly about, but I am terrible at identifying them by ear. Only the two kinds mentioned, the white-throated and the juncos, are visiting the area under the birdfeeder for easy visual ID.

Species missing so far, that I can usually count on in a given winter:

  • a wren or two (winter wren and Carolina wren)
  • brown creeper (I know he’s here, just displaced from his favorite tree near the kitchen window by a bumper crop of squirrels)
  • red-breasted nuthatch
  • hermit thrush
  • pileated woodpeckers (here, but quiet; not treating me to the usual up-close winter visits into the immediate backyard)
  • the occasional starling
  • wandering flocks of cedar waxwings, who have been absent since late fall, but any day I know their high-pitched whistle will catch my ear

If I feel the need to see starlings, I need only walk to the extensive dairy-farm fields just down the road, where there are also often flocks of sea gulls despite the inland position.  On days when stored-up slurry of waste from the herd is spread on the frozen fields, loaded with bits of undigested grain I expect, so many crows descend that I cannot even guess the count–but it’s a fantastic sight.

Birds I wish would visit this winter, as they do every couple or few, but apparently not this time:

  • pine siskin
  • common redpoll

Only one year in 30ish here did I have a visit from the winter finches called pine grosbeaks. But a girl can live in hope–and I do, that those gregarious, beautiful birds will stop in sometime again.

Let me know who you’re keeping company with this winter, please.

(P.S.–Early February update: Since this story was posted, I have added a few visitors. A male flicker, on the suet feeder daily; the aforementioned pileated, who is drumming again.)

do you eBird? sign up now

ebird logoTHE ONLINE bird-counting application called eBird, a project of Cornell Lab of Ornithology, celebrates its 10th year in 2015. Unlike well-known counts such as Great Backyard Bird Count and Project Feederwatch (more on them below), which have specific start and end dates each year, eBird is a lifetime tool, for use anytime, and whether at home or elsewhere. Maybe make joining eBird a slightly belated New Year’s resolution?

I like eBird’s new-in-2014 “Location Explorer,” a dashboard allowing you to zoom in on who’s seen what in a particular area of interest—as useful for seeing what other species are around where you live as it is for planning a birding trip to some exotic distant place.

Within it I can drill down to the “hotspots map,” then zoom in and see how many species have been recorded in my vicinity. For instance, in the public land surrounding my place (the Taconic State Park—Copake Falls Area; Columbia County, New York), there are 89 species recorded from 11 checklists. What’s exciting: More than a dozen of those species are ones I have yet to see, and my own life list here includes almost as many that aren’t among the 89.

That’s why it’s important that we all participate, and share our data, so a fuller picture can be had by researchers than they could gather on their own. As in: Do you see what I see? Probably not. Off I go to transfer the numbers on my pad of paper into my eBird account.

  • eBird: Sign up here and use the online checklist anytime (which helps by suggesting possible birds in your area).
  • GBBC: Sign up for the next Great Backyard Bird Count, February 13-16 (a joint project of Cornell, Audubon and Bird Studies Canada, and powered by the eBird technology).
  • Project Feederwatch: Or you can still join Project Feederwatch (from Cornell and Birds Studies Canada), which runs November into April and as it sounds is about recording birds in your backyard in feeder season, at the feeders themselves or in your garden plantings or using its water features—counting birds using something you provided.

5926262769_9e6d53e5b2_z(Photos up top and just above by Leslie Jones (1886-1967), from the Boston Public Library Collection. More on “the camera man,” as Jones, a longtime Boston newspaper photographer, called himself, in this story, or in the BPL’s Flickr archive of his work.)

Categoriesbird sh-t
  1. Lissa P says:

    Despite living in Southern Indiana, my list looks much like yours, Margaret. We have more purple and house finches; juncos only that numerous right before snow and cold weather (hence the name, snowbirds by the locals); and no bluebirds despite the fact our neighbor has many boxes for them. I would love to see the piliated woodpecker that I hear in the woods nearby. I bought a special suet feeder to lure it over but only my husband has seen it. I found the 3 cardinals curious since we only see them in pairs. Backyard birds have become our favorite pets since they take care of themselves and don’t have to be boarded when we travel. Thanks for your blog. You are so diligent with keeping it fresh and interesting!

    1. margaret says:

      I forgot to list the beloved, prehistoric-looking pileated, Lissa, and there are lots here…but they are quiet right now in the immediate vicinity, at least. Some years he comes right into the back yard, by the porch, and has at it in a very old apple that has one rotted trunk. I often hear them nonstop around the perimeter of the garden as well. Yes, odd to have two male cardinals and one female, so perhaps someone perished? Thank you in return for the kind comments and details of your bird watching.

  2. Joe says:

    I might have to start tracking, though I’m certain my list isn’t near as long as yours. We put up a bird feeder just a few weeks ago. After a week of no visitors, it finally started attracting lots of juncos and house finches. It’s also been visited regularly by a couple of cardinals and a few blue jays. Add in the occasional visit to our back yard by crows (ravens? I still have trouble telling), and a flyover by a hawk, and that’s been our January so far.

  3. Terie Rawn says:

    Hi Margret, We have been feeding the birds for many years. Recently we purchased 2 Basic Setup feeding stations from Birds Unlimited here in Ithaca, NY. I have been thrilled with their performance. FINALLY our squirrels are baffled! All together we have 4 sunflower feeders, 1 thistle feeder and 2 suet cages. These are placed just outside our windows. Transparent decals are used for fewer bird-strikes with much success. I also scatter a few handfuls of my favorite mix: cracked corn, white millet, safflower and sunflower ~ for those sweet ground feeders.

    I smiled as I read your list. My is very similar. I do report them annually to the GBBC but thanks to you, will now get involved with eBird! My goldfinch numbers are up in the 30’s due to lack of pine siskin and redpoll this year. Mourning dove are down from 60+ last winter to 28. Junco are in the 30’s again. A thrill for me is American tree sparrow this winter. Usually I see 1 or 2 in early winter but then they disappear. We are hosting up to 16 daily now!

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Terie — and I am impressed with the tree sparrow, too. As I said, my sparrow acumen is pretty sad, but each year I force myself to get a little better. And this last year or so I finally baffled (haha) the squirrels, too. So nice of you to write and share your observations, and you will love eBird.

  4. Beverly, zone 6, eastern PA says:

    My favorite birds to watch at the winter feeder and heated birdbath: Carolina Wrens, Juncos, Cardinals, Tufted Titmouse, Rose (or is it Red-) Breasted Nuthatch, White Breasted Nuthatch, Mourning Doves, Chickadees and many, many Sparrows and Finches. The larger of these are hunted by a Sharp Shinned Hawk, a Red Tailed Hawk and a Falcon.

    At the opposite end of the yard, flocks of starlings come for the bean pods of my Pagoda Tree (Sophora) and flocks of robins, usually in late January, come to my two-story Burford Holly.

  5. Lorie says:

    I have participated in Project Feeederwatch for many years, submitting counts weekly. I am joyful each year when the red headed woodpecker is tempted out of the neighboring forest for peanuts and sunflower hearts and bluebirds come from somewhere for water. It’s a beautiful sight when 40+ goldfinches swarm the feeders…a visual blessing.

  6. Zone 7B, in the (usually) temperate Pacific Northwest… We didn’t see Pine Siskins joining the goldfinches at the feeder until after Christmas this year. Now, people call it a “siskinvasion!” Thanks for all the info, Margaret.

    1. margaret says:

      Hello, Bird Lady. :) I wish I had a siskinvasion going on. Love those little birds. In my early years here (20 and event 30 years ago) I always had big flocks in winter, and big groups of evening grosbeak, too, every single year.

  7. Jacquie Burdick says:

    Just wanted to share with you that each year the Audubon hosts a Backyard bird count. You can go to their site and register. The count starts on February 13-16 this year. This is a great program and i hope you all sign up to do it.

  8. Pat says:

    I’m not very good at identifying birds beyond the basic cardinals, robins, and bluejays and definitely can’t tell one woodpecker from another. I was excited though to spy what I think was a snowy owl on two separate days, flying between the trees at our property line. And we also had a hawk feasting on some prey right before Christmas. It was sitting on the ground with it’s wing spread out and was quite impressive.

  9. Jane in So Cal Mts says:

    It is truly such a treat to enjoy our winter visitors! This is only my second season living here in the San Gabriel Mts, but oh my what a difference in avian friends at my feeders from my previous home on the Mojave Desert!
    Stellars Jay, scrub jay, dark-eyed junco, house finch, lesser goldfinch, plain titmouse, mt chickadee, CA thrasher, CA quail, E C dove, W bluebird, spotted towhee, Nuttall’s WP, acorn WP, northern flicker, WB nuthatch, WC sparrow, GC sparrow, brown towhee, American robin, common raven, RC kinglet, YR warbler, pine siskin, Lawrence’s goldfinch

    Amazingly I have yet to see last year’s Cooper’s hawk patrolling the neighborhood.

    Margaret, thank you for sharing all the “bonuses” that come with gardening. How fortunate we truly are.

    1. margaret says:

      Thank you back, Jane. I have Cooper’s and also sharp-shinned (and eagles, too) but usually way overhead or on the fringe, except in peak garden season when the Cooper’s and sharpies dive-bomb in to grab dinner. Those Steller’s jays crack me up–handsome!

  10. Shirlee H. Amis says:

    I wish every one would include zone or what part of a state they are reporting from. It would sure make it more interesting. From: zone 8, Central Mississippi. Thanks!

  11. Juanita says:

    I began birding after my son graduated from college. Didn’t really have time during child rearing. Now I love to watch who comes to my feeders. I have several of the same birds you’ve listed. I have Carolina wrens, I think Pine Warblers, white crowned sparrows and some wood Thrush. I lure my birds by playing my Ibird ap chirps! I’ve had some black capped Chickadees come really close to me. Tonight I had a purple finch fly so close I could hear its wings fluttering. So cool!

    1. margaret says:

      The chickadees will even land in your hand if you stay very still and have seed in your open palm. Amazing. Thanks for saying hello, Juanita.

  12. Judy from Kansas says:

    Just learned about eBird last week so of course Margaret talks about it. LOL I love how close you always are to what I’m seeing and doing here in SE Kansas.
    Having moved to a smaller farm last fall, with lots of huge old red cedars, oaks and hickories, I’m thrilled with the variety at our feeders.
    Besides the regular jays, cardinals and sparrows we regularly see tufted titmouses, chickadees, nuthatches, gold and purple finches, eastern bluebirds, several different blackbirds and woodpeckers. But the thrill last week was a pair of Eurasian collared doves. Such beauties and I love their call.
    we also have more geese than we’d like on our lake, occasional ducks passing thru, lots of crows and hawks, falcons, occasional owls and the rare bald eagle. Another delight last fall was a huge flock of pelicans which we learn are regular yearly visitors. Only here for a couple days.
    looking forward to seeing what spring will bring, and grateful to be retired so I have the time to enjoy them.

    1. margaret says:

      Pelicans in Kansas? That is hilarious, Judy. Who knew? Never seen one except in Florida. Thanks for sharing the observations.

  13. sfs says:

    I don’t keep a formal list, but this is who I saw this morning: bald eagles (1 adult, 1 juvenile); turkeys (50–they roost in my trees at the river); red tailed hawks (2); great blue herons (there’s a rookery at the river, too); geese and ducks (teal); plus goldfinches, cardinals, nuthatches, chickadees, purple finches, mourning doves, and downy woodpeckers at my feeders and the ground below. I regularly spy kingfishers, Carolina wrens, brown thrushes, crows, starlings, grackles, flickers, pileated, redheaded and downy woodpeckers, kites, vultures, barred and barn owls, titmouses (-mice?), bluejays, and juncos. The bluebirds have been hiding out, but they’re around. And when the weather warms up, I’ll have lots of other visitors. One of my favorite sights was when around one stump with a feeder on top gathered a pileated woodpecker, two goldfinches, and an indigo bunting. What a fantastic juxtaposition of colors!

  14. Judy says:

    Hi Margaret,

    I’ve become more serious this winter in feeding the birds. This is the first year I’ve consistently filled the seed feeders and suet feeders. I haven’t counted the birds, or types of birds at my feeders, but, I have chickadees, wrens, goldfinches, purple finches, house finches, cardinals, sparrows, starlings, juncos (?), titmouse and woodpeckers. I love the red bellied woodpecker, and I get the hairy and downy woodpeckers. I would love to see a pileated woodpecker.. maybe one day. I was thrilled to see a northern flicker at the suet feeder a couple of times. I rarely see them. Of course, there are the squirrels, too. I usually get a lot of birds and it’s entertaining to watch them and the little dramas. The past couple of days, a cooper or sharp shinned hawk was at the feeders. It even went up to my window and got a good look at it. That was a thrill, too! So far as I know, it hasn’t gotten any birds, but I see that my feeders have been vacated. The birds know and are taking cover. I’m debating if I should take my feeders down for a little while, so the hawk will move on. I know hawks have to eat, too. It’s all part of life in the wild. I don’t think I could stomach seeing a bird caught and eaten… a dilemma in backyard bird feeding.

  15. john says:

    Wow, good list of visitors…
    I’m no good at identifying the little brown ones because they see so common, why bother? But I will learn who is a winter finch, and who is a house sparrow.
    My most unusual is the Northern Flicker, both male AND female! They just seem so exotic for my backyard… But the juncos are so sweet, maybe my favorite.

    1. margaret says:

      I had a few more since I wrote this, John. A stray male flicker (usually I don’t seem them in winter at my garden, but they are around, I know). A raven. And the pileated woodpeckers have just started drumming this week!

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