Project Feeder Watch

An uncommon winter visitor to feeders in Ohio, a Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca). 
Project FeederWatch presents a fantastic opportunity for backyard bird watchers to engage in citizen science by observing and making simple, standardized counts of birds in their backyards. 

These observations can be input into the FeederWatch database, which is accessible by ornithologists that study feeder bird populations. The data collected via Project FeederWatch contributes directly to ornithologists understanding of changes in feeder bird distributions and abundances across North America. People of all ages and experience levels can contribute to ornithological research by participating in Project FeederWatch.

Click here to learn more about Project FeederWatch.

Project FeederWatch is in it's 32nd season of monitoring population trends through citizen scientists observing and recording their winter feeder-bird data. The Project FeederWatch season begins every year in November and ends in April coinciding with when winter feeder-bird densities are at their peak. The data collected through Project FeederWatch contributes to the understanding of population trends and assists ornithologists understanding of the dynamics of fluctuating populations. This data is important because short term population declines may not necessarily indicate a true species decline; in fact, these trends may actually reflect short-term weather changes or variations in food source availability and abundance. Collecting data for an extended period of time over the course of decades is the only way to show true population trends.

The Richland County Park District is proud to have joined the Project FeederWatch community in 2019 and be able to contribute data to the understanding of our local winter feeder-bird populations. While you visit Gorman Nature Center, make sure to stop by our bird feeder observation area and contribute to Project FeederWatch by recording your observations! Prior to tallying your results, please read the Project FeederWatch guidelines for observing and recording your data or check with RCPD Staff, Interns, or Volunteers.

A common backyard feeder visitor, Red-Bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus). 

Quick Instructions
Select your count site: 
Choose a portion of your yard that is easy to monitor, typically an area that is visible from inside your home. 
  1. Choose count days:  Select no more than two consecutive days as often as once a week. Counts must be at least five days apart.
  2. How to count:  Record the maximum number of each species that you see simultaneously during your two-day count.  Do not add your counts together!
  3. What to count:
    1. All of the individuals of each species in view at any one time.
    2. Birds attracted to food or water you provided.
    3. Birds attracted to fruits or ornamental plantings.
    4. Hawks and other predatory birds that are attracted by the birds at your feeders.
    5. Do not count birds that fly over the count site
    6. Do not count birds seen on non-count days
  4. Report your counts:  Submit your data to Project FeederWatch at
Check here for complete and detailed  instructions for Project FeederWatch. Join the Project FeederWatch community.

Hardships Birds Encounter During the Wintertime
Winter can be a very tumultuous time for birds, especially in North America. In Ohio, specifically, many species of birds migrate south to escape the bitterness of winter preferring to avoid the hardships associated with below freezing temperatures. Although, many of these species of birds will nest in the tundra all the way down through the arboreal forests of Canada, it is important to note that nesting time occurs during the spring and summer months meaning the frigid temperatures encountered during the winter are not as treacherous in the spring and summer. During the winter, days are often short, windy, and cold and at night they are longer, windier, and colder. Finding food after heavy snowfall can prove to be even more difficult.

Aside from conifers, most of the vegetation has died back, eliminating food sources in seeds and berries and reducing available protection from the elements. Coinciding with this reduction in cover and food is the fact that other food sources such as insects also diminish. Birds that are insectivorous by nature and require insect based diets need to migrate south until food sources become available. Birds that tend to stick around in winter have the ability to adjust their diets dependent on the situation to accommodate for the lack of food.

Installing bird feeders can provide a safer, easier opportunity for birds to find food during the winter months. Bird feeders can serve duel purposes because not only do they make birds lives easier during the winter, but they also make our lives more enjoyable. Instead of braving the elements, home owners can sit comfortably inside content enjoying the bird activity outside. This provides an opportunity for citizens to become engaged as feeder watchers for Project FeederWatch.

What Kind of Bird Food Should I Offer?

Birds eat a variety of food. The type of food that a bird prefers at any given time will mainly be dependent on the time of year and availability. During spring and summer months, birds typically have an abundance of different food sources to indulge themselves; ranging from insects and spiders, to seeds, and fruit. The birds that you will encounter at your bird feeder in the winter tend to be nonmigratory songbirds that are omnivorous and switch from eating insects and spiders during spring and fall to relying on seeds and fruits in the winter to survive. Fruits are usually eaten up quickly by birds during the late fall and early winter. Popular fruits include holly berries, black cherry, dogwood fruit, winterberry, and poison ivy, among others.

To attract birds to your feeder it is important to offer bird seed that is appealing. Often times chain supermarkets that sell bird seed tend to sell mixed seed bags that include unpopular choices disliked by birds. It is important when choosing bird seed, that you know what type of seeds different species of birds prefer to increase your chances of attracting them to your yard. There are a variety of options when choosing which seeds to offer birds. This does not mean that you must buy each type of food to attract each species of bird. Many species tend to eat a variety of different seeds; however, there are certain choices that can be made to increase the likelihood of alluring desirable birds, while detracting undesirable birds such as European Starlings and House Sparrows.

Black-oil sunflower seeds are a popular choice for attracting the most variety of birds to your yard. If you are searching for a fantastic generalist bird seed, then black-oil sunflower seeds are your best option. These seeds are highly nutritious because of high meat to shell ratio and high fat content. Their small size and thin shells makes them ideal for smaller birds to crack open and enjoy. Studies have shown that many birds tend to choose black-oil sunflower seeds over other options often included in standard seed mixes. Birds will eat the sunflower seeds and leave behind other options such as milo, millet, oats, wheat, flax, and buckwheat seeds leaving them to mold and rot. Moldy, rotten seeds can be harmful to the health of birds. It is always best to provide desired options to avoid the growth of harmful mold and bacteria.

Other seed type options that are good choices to offer birds include: Millet, Safflower, Nyjer seeds. Millet comes in white and red varieties. White Millet tends to be preferable by birds because of its high protein and slight sweet taste. Safflower is becoming a more popular choice of seed preferred by birdwatchers and birds alike. It is a white seed that is high in protein, fat, and fiber that provides superior nutrition for backyard birds. Safflower is enjoyed by many common backyard birds, such as chickadees, nuthatches, finches, jays, and cardinals, with limited appeal for starlings and House Sparrows. Safflower may not be many birds first food choice initially, but once they have developed a taste for it they will surely love it. Nyjer seed is a small, thin, black seed high in oil and is highly nutritious for birds. It is a popular choice among winter finches and other seed-eating birds including: Common/Hoary Redpolls, Pine Siskins, Sparrows, Mourning Doves, and Dark-eyed Juncos. Nyjer seed is one of the more expensive bird seeds offered. To offset the high cost, many backyard birders prefer feeders that limit the dispersal of seed and avoid spilling large quantities.

Peanuts, shelled or unshelled, are popular for birds such as Blue Jay, American Crows, Cardinals, and others as well as squirrels. If squirrels are problematic in your backyard or neighborhood it can be beneficial to offer them a food source to deter them from harassing your bird feeder. Squirrels will eat peanuts and whole-kernel corn. Whole-kernel corn is an option enjoyed by many ground feeding backyard bird species such as doves, jays, crows, pigeons, quail, and pheasants.

It is important to note that feeding habits vary based on geographic regions, weather patterns, season, food availability, and preference. This list is to serve as a general guideline for people interested in backyard birding looking for information on food sources. Experiment to determine what food your backyard