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Earth Notes
Science and Innovations

Earth Notes: Project FeederWatch

Pam Koch/Project FeederWatch

Feeding wild birds in the backyard is an enjoyable hobby for many. But for Emma Greig it’s much more—it’s a way to keep tabs on what’s happening with bird populations across the country.

That’s because Greig runs a program called Project FeederWatch for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. This 37-year-old citizen-science project, running annually from November through April, collects data on birds throughout North America.

Participants in the project not only get to know their backyard birds, but help with science. Project leader Greig said because all FeederWatchers count in a particular way she can compare counts across the continent, over the 37 years and even between species.

For example, FeederWatch data clearly tracked the movements of the invasive Eurasian Collared-Dove. First recorded in Florida in 1982, this dove has rapidly spread west. It became part of the Colorado Plateau’s bird life only about 10 years ago.

These days Greig is particularly interested in having Southwest residents look for house finch eye disease. This bacterial disease causes red, swollen, runny or crusty eyes. First discovered by FeederWatchers in the Washington, D.C., area in 1994, it has since spread widely. The disease occurs in at least one part of Arizona, but Project FeederWatch does not know how widespread it is in the Southwest.

Greig encourages anyone who feeds birds to participate. Relatively few people take part in the program in the wide-open Southwest, so backyard records from those who do are particularly valuable. For more information visit

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