Citizen Scientists Wanted For Bird-Watching Project

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Payson and the Mogollon Rim with its diverse vegetation, lakes, creeks and streams is a perfect place for bird-watching.

There are plenty of species that are permanent residents, plus an abundance of birds that make this a regular stop on their north-south migration.

Area residents who enjoy watching the birds visit their backyard and porch feeders are needed for an annual counting project, conducted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

The Project FeederWatch program has been conducted for the past 20 years. In 2005, house finches were reported at more feeders in the Southwest than any other species, said project leader David Bonter.

Close behind in the rankings were dark-eyed juncos, mourning doves, white-crowned sparrows, and western scrub-jays.

The citizen-science project helps answer questions about bird populations.

According to Bonter, last winter was a bit of a disappointment for many bird enthusiasts.

"A lot of people from Texas and Oklahoma, west to New Mexico, Arizona and California reported less activity at their feeders last year. In fact, flock sizes for the top five species were all below average last winter," said Bonter.

While the most common species were having an off year, other species were showing up in record numbers. More than half of the FeederWatch participants in the region reported seeing lesser goldfinches, an increase from the 1990s. Other species reported at record levels in the region this past season included the ruby-crowned kinglet and Cooper's hawk. White-winged doves continued to expand their range and are now common in many parts of the region.

Project FeederWatch participants have submitted more than 1.1 million checklists to date, helping scientists track changes in bird populations and distribution. People of all ages and skill levels are welcome to participate.

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The mourning dove was a common bird in the Southwest during the 2005-2006 Project FeederWatch program.

To learn more about Project FeederWatch or to register, visit www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw or call (800) 843-2473.

In return for the $15 registration fee, participants receive the FeederWatcher's Handbook, a poster of the most common feeder birds, a calendar, complete instructions, a subscription to the lab's newsletter, BirdScope, and the FeederWatch Winter Bird Highlights.

The season runs from Nov. 11 to April 6, and participants may join at any time.

By signing up prior to the start date, participants can provide data for the entire season, which is preferred, Bonter said.

"It's our 20th year," said Bonter, "and we're counting on citizen scientists to help us track birds for the next 20 years."

Twenty years is a long time to be watching your bird feeders. But by the end of the upcoming Project FeederWatch season, that's how long 128 participants will have been faithfully recording their winter bird observations and sending their findings to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

"With 20 years of data behind us, we can be much more confident about defining population changes as either natural fluctuations or long-term trends that are truly out of the ordinary," Bonter said.

More than 13,000 people take part in Project FeederWatch, tracking birds at their feeders as often as once per week through the winter.

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The Gambel's quail was the fifth most common feeder bird in Arizona during the 2005-2006 count, according to Project FeederWatch leader David Bonter.

Bonter said there were only 90 Arizona participants in the count last year and none from the Mogollon Rim area.

"Arizona is so diverse, we really could use more people to help us," Bonter.

Last year produced a number of rarities. Some western hummingbirds migrated to the Southeastern states instead of Mexico, and one FeederWatcher saw only the ninth common grackle ever reported in all of Alaska.

Overall, many participants reported fewer birds than normal at their feeders during the winter of 2005-2006 -- possibly due to a mild winter.

What will this winter bring?

People of all ages and skill levels are welcome to participate.

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