Home Teachers | Mentors | Discussions | Research | Find
   The Winter Bird Feeder SurveyCreating the Context Background Info   
The PathFinder Science Network

 the Context

  Research Focus
  Background Info
  Research Method
  Data Submission
  Results of Study
  Data Analysis
  Further Research


  Research Question
  Background Info
  Research Method
  Data Submission
  Results of Study
  Data Analysis
  Further Research
  Research Values

  Doing Research
  Email List
  Bird Links
  2004 Bird Map


The Winter Bird Feeder Survey data has been gathered by hundreds of volunteers from across the country, at home and from outdoor study sites and feeders at schools. The Winter Bird Feeder survey is a cooperative effort to census winter birds at feeders (mostly seed eating birds) throughout the country. Participants keep track of their feeders on two consecutive days during the four designated days in January. Sometimes this has been done by just paying attention outside the kitchen window! Visiting bird data is entered on this Data Submission site or on mail-in forms.

Backyard Birds and Bird Feeding

There are over 8700 species of living birds and the ability of most birds to fly means that everywhere we go out-of -doors, we find birds. They are in our backyards and throughout the countryside, along creeks on mud flats, ponds, lakes, at sea and in deserts. Birds occur everywhere over the North American continent and its adjacent waters, but they are not uniformly distributed. Birds live only in certain habitats and each species of bird has preferred types of food. As with all wildlife, birds need appropriate food, liquid water (ice does not work!) and cover in suitable habitat for roosting, feeding and reproduction.

Bird watching, or "birding" is a very popular out-of-doors pastime and is enjoyed by millions, through their glass windows and the comfort of their temperature-controlled homes to trips to specific habitats to see specific groups of birds such as shorebirds, water birds, grassland birds, forest birds, etc. Still other people take birding vacations or visit national parks or wildlife refutes to observe birds.

If you are going to feed birds in your backyard make sure that the feeder is close to a good observation post. It is important to remember that birds do not need us to feed them and take care of them. If you are going to feed them, position the feeder in a place where you can see and enjoy them!

It is very important that if you start feeding bird in winter that you continue to feed them throughout the season. Birds can become dependent on your feeder as a reliable food source, and may struggle if you cut them off. March, April and May can be very lean months for seed eating birds, so it is best to feed into June or year round.

What Do You Need to Go "Birding"?

One of the most important items needed is a book that identifies the birds that may be seen. There are many excellent bird identifications guides to be found for purchase at PathFinder Equipment.

For online assistance in Bird Identification, the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology is an excellent resource, as is the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, which has an extensive website that includes pictures, videos, songs, and identification tips for North American birds.

A pair of binoculars is a very useful tool to see the field marks of a bird more clearly. In general, you should choose a magnification of no less than 6X and no more than 10X with 7X or 8X being the most popular among experienced birders. Cost and quality varies greatly with the optics and light gathering ability of the binoculars.

most avid birders are in the habit of carrying a small notebook or a local checklist to keep a record of birds seen on a particular trip or day. Many also keep specific area lists, backyard lists, daily lists, yearly lists, etc.

Bird Feeders

Bird feeders are an excellent way to increase the number and variety of birds near your home. Some birds are very colorful, some are sassy and others have charming personalities. The can be attracted to feeders where a continuous food source is provided.

A feeding program can be initiated at any time during the year; however, the best time is in the fall, around the first of November, before birds have settled down in their chosen winter territories. Many birds develop routines of searching for food over about the same course each day. When a feeding station is begun at this time, it will attract many wintering species that will be come regular visitors.

Select an area in good view from a window close to shrubbery and evergreens that can afford good escape cover. It is best to begin a new feeding station with a simple open tray about 12 inches wide, 18 inches long and one or two inches deep. Be sure to provide drainage (screen on the bottom works well) to prevent rain or snow water from standing in the tray. This can cause the food to mold and spoiled food should not be feed to birds.

House sparrows or house finches usually find the feeder first and their feeding activity leads cardinals, chickadees, juncos and other species to the feeder. As birds become accustomed to feeding in your yard, the feeder should be roofed over or replaced with sheltered feeders. Feeders may be stationary or hanging and a big assortment is available. Some are designed for specific foods, such as thistle feeders for finches, sunflower seeds for cardinals, chickadees, and titmice, suet feeders for woodpeckers .

Perhaps the best mix of feed for the cost is a mixture of millet, milo and sunflower seeds. Sunflower seeds should make up at least 1 percent of the mix. Woodpeckers and some other species are best attracted by beef suet put out in special suet feeders or bags. Chickadees and brown creepers like peanut butters, but be sure to add corn meal or suet to peanut butter to prevent them from choking. It is best to maintain a feed supply year around to keep the birds coming to your yard. You will then have the pleasure of seeing parent birds bring their young to the feeders.


Birds have a critical need for water to both drink and bathe. This can be provided with a simple bird bath or a backyard pool. A pool large enough to support a few small goldfish is best since the fish will prevent mosquito production in the water. A water drip or waterfall is especially attractive to bird life. Fresh, unfrozen water is critical to birds in the winter time.

Nesting Sites

To increase the opportunity for various bird species nesting near your yard, the key is landscape diversity and nesting sites. Each species has different nest site requirements. Some are ground nesters, others nest in shrubs and thickets, and still others nest high in large trees. The addition of manmade next boxes attracts nesting birds, such as wrens, chickadees, purple martins, titmice and others.

Flowers and Shrubs

Choose annual flowers and perennials flowers, shrubs and trees that provide a source of nectar throughout the year. Many shrubs and trees also produce seed crops used by many different species of birds. Flowers and shrubs also provide cover for birds - providing a degree of safety from predators and protection from the weather.

Planning and Planting Backyard Habitat for Birds

To attract the greatest diversity of wild birds, it is necessary to provide a diverse habitat. Most yards are too open, mostly tall trees and short grass. To this we need to add plants that bear fruit, seeds, nuts and other foods used by birds. Also plant shrubbery with branching, low growth that is ideal for escape cover and nesting. Create a layered effect with large trees, small trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants. An open area surrounded by layered planning is most attractive to bird life. Maximize habitat edges where different types of plantings meet. This can be where a flower bed and shrub row meets or where a shrub row adjoins taller trees. These habitat edges are heavily used by birds. Include evergreen trees and shrubs as they provide critical winter shelter for resident species.

Feeding birds at School

Many schools out outdoor study areas. The OWLS program (in Kansas) is directed by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and parks and funded through the Chickadee Checkoff. OWLS is designed to facilitate outdoor laboratories on or near schools grounds. These areas would be ideal sites to participate in the Kansas Winter Bird Feeder Survey. Typically, OWLS areas are made up of native habitat plantings, small wetlands or pools, bird feeding stations, and interpretation displays. Students are encouraged to be involved from the very start so that they gain experience in planning, budgeting and designing the site. On new sites, students, parents, teachers, administrators, and other cooperators get to plan, learn, plant and have fun together as the OWLS materializes. By following straightforward guidelines, schools can submit OWLS proposals to the Department of Wildlife and Parks. This is a great program and many states have similar programs to support wildlife/outdoor education.

For more information about OWLS< contact Fisheries and Wildlife Division, 512 SE 25th Avenue, Pratt, KS 67124. And also remember to support the Chickadee Checkoff through your donation on the individual income tax form.

If you are interested in participating in additional bird projects like this, you may also consider participating in the The Citizen Science Programs sponsored by the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. They have a number of programs designed for citizen participation.

© 1996-2006 PathFinder Science