Cornell Project FeederWatch – A Decade of Surveys

blue jay at feeder click to enlarge

As we settle into the peak season for observing backyard feeders for avian activity, the Lloyd Center enters the 2021-2022 monitoring season having officially collected a decade’s worth of data. So as we begin counting the familiar birds on a weekly basis, it’s worth a look back.  We have completed 208 surveys, for an average of approximately 20-22 counts over each approximately six month counting period. Over that time, 12,132 birds have been counted, for an average of 58 birds per survey date. The dominant species were Mourning Doves, Dark-eyed Juncos, American Goldfinch, Tufted Titmice, and Red-winged Blackbirds. Subdominants were White-throated Sparrow, Black-capped Chickadee, Brown-headed Cowbird, White-breasted Nuthatch, and Downy Woodpecker.   

The doves and juncos flock at ground level and can reach high numbers on any given survey, in particular the doves, which may have increased as amounts of open areas have increased somewhat on the property. American Goldfinch, barely present in recent years, had some earlier irruption years where poor food sources drove them south in huge numbers. Tufted Titmice, while solitary, have extremely high abundance in an oak-hickory forest which comprises much of the Lloyd Center property. Red-winged

male cardinal at feeder

Blackbirds nest at our kettle pond and flock in high numbers beginning in late winter when they, the first of the migrants, return to the region. For subdominants, the White-throated sparrows are another ground feeder which flocks like the juncos but which declined after some seasons for whatever reason. The chickadees share space with the titmice but at lower abundance levels, along with the White-breasted Nuthatches and Downy Woodpecker, our two common tree clingers that are also consistently detected in small numbers. Brown-headed Cowbirds invade the feeders on any given day, with the lack of a nesting concentration nearby possibly keeping them below the redwings in number.    

Moderately abundant species below the top ten include the Blue Jay, which had one particularly busy season and are otherwise consistently seen at low abundance. Northern Cardinals thrive in semi-open forested environments and along with the Red-bellied Woodpecker, have increased in numbers in the northeast over time. American Robins, while not a regular feeder visitor, make their presence known on occasion in a region where winter flocks in the nearby forest may number in the hundreds. The Common Grackle has developed a presence at our feeders more recently, often taking over the area.    

In addition to these trends for the usual Feederwatch schedule, the last two years yielded new data by way of season extensions into April due to the pandemic, when folks were home and still watching the feeders. A total of 300 detections occurred over the two seasons in what was primarily a blackbird invasion. where the top three species ranked in both years were redwings, cowbirds, and grackles. Last year the April survey featured Chipping Sparrow in the top five species, with this bird a frequent feeder visitor when they return, but not numerous enough to enter the ranks during the traditional season.   

This look back is just a snapshot as we continue to collect and analyze feeder data, which is far reaching in depicting changes in songbird numbers due to short term impacts, such as human use of the landscape and food source changes, and longer term trends such as habitat, and particularly forest succession and ultimately climate change.