FEEDERWATCH

To the casual observer, what may appear to be a nondescript group of birds at a feeder is actually an indicator of environmental change. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.

John Fitzpatrick is Director of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and a participant in Project Feederwatch, an annual effort to take a national census of the non-migrating birds of North America.

“One of the most important things about birds is that they give us a very quick handle on environmental change. We often are asked, for example, why we’re interested in these common birds? The chickadees and titmice and blue jays and things that are all over the place. In fact, these are some of the most interesting birds. What our long term conservation goals are are not just to keep things from going extinct, but to keep the common birds common and indeed what we’ve recognized with long term studies of population numbers is that they’re going up and down a lot in nature for lots of reasons. A couple of very harsh winters in a row will make tufted titmouse populations move farther south. But we’re also finding that human influences, in terms of habitat management, make a big difference in what birds occur where and how common they are. So what Feederwatch does is it gives us a chance to keep monitoring the commonest birds around our backyards, see some features of their biology we otherwise wouldn’t have understood, but also [it] is giving us a chance to see how their numbers change over longer time scales in response, for example, to how humans have changed the landscape. If we’d had projects like Feederwatch a hundred years ago when Carolina parakeets were still flying around, it’s possible it would have allowed us to figure out what we needed to do to keep the species from going extinct.”

Additional funding for Pulse of the Planet has been provided by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

FEEDERWATCH

Even the common birds which frequent feeders during the winter can be indicators of local environmental change.
Air Date:03/02/1999
Scientist:
Transcript:

To the casual observer, what may appear to be a nondescript group of birds at a feeder is actually an indicator of environmental change. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.

John Fitzpatrick is Director of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and a participant in Project Feederwatch, an annual effort to take a national census of the non-migrating birds of North America.

"One of the most important things about birds is that they give us a very quick handle on environmental change. We often are asked, for example, why we're interested in these common birds? The chickadees and titmice and blue jays and things that are all over the place. In fact, these are some of the most interesting birds. What our long term conservation goals are are not just to keep things from going extinct, but to keep the common birds common and indeed what we've recognized with long term studies of population numbers is that they're going up and down a lot in nature for lots of reasons. A couple of very harsh winters in a row will make tufted titmouse populations move farther south. But we're also finding that human influences, in terms of habitat management, make a big difference in what birds occur where and how common they are. So what Feederwatch does is it gives us a chance to keep monitoring the commonest birds around our backyards, see some features of their biology we otherwise wouldn't have understood, but also [it] is giving us a chance to see how their numbers change over longer time scales in response, for example, to how humans have changed the landscape. If we'd had projects like Feederwatch a hundred years ago when Carolina parakeets were still flying around, it's possible it would have allowed us to figure out what we needed to do to keep the species from going extinct."

Additional funding for Pulse of the Planet has been provided by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.