Citizen Science Across the Curriculum— Project FeederWatch

by Christy Peterson

xOur family has participated in Project FeederWatch since 2007, so I’ve written about it quite a bit over the years. I’ve recently begun to explore how this project might be used in the classroom. At its heart, FeederWatch is a simple concept. Set up feeders to attract birds. Count the birds that visit these feeders. Report findings. However, hidden in these simple activities are threads from science and mathematics, literature and writing, even history and geography.

What is Project FeederWatch?

Project FeederWatch grew out of a project called the Ontario Feeder Bird Survey, which began in the 1970s. In 1987, the project coalesced into an international partnership between Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada. Observations provided by participants all over North America help scientists learn about changes in winter ranges and population levels, the spread of diseases, and the kinds of foods and habitats that attract birds.

How Does the Project Work?

Individuals and groups register their count sites, describing the location, size, and habitat type of the chosen site. In a school setting, a FeederWatch count site can be set up to serve one classroom, several classrooms, or an entire school. Participants choose two counting days per week. During the counting days, the following information is recorded: temperature, precipitation, time spent counting, and the largest group size of the various bird species sited. For example, if a group of two juncos is seen at one time during the count, and later a group of five juncos is seen, five is the number recorded in the count.

Using Project FeederWatch in a School Setting

Project FeederWatch provides an easy-to-use instruction booklet for participants. At the beginning, it is probably best to have students observe the station and record their data as a group with a teacher or other adult modeling, so each student can learn the proper recording and counting procedures. Recording the high and low temperatures and precipitation on counting day could be part of morning “calendar” activities for younger students. After a bit of practice, older students should be able to record observations on their own. Because accuracy is important to the scientific integrity of the project, an adult should do the online data entry.

Learning the Birds

I usually find that students (and teachers) know far more bird species than they think. Project FeederWatch provides a poster with common feeder birds, which can be hung in the classroom. If you can locate a bird book specific to your area, I suggest you start with it. This helps eliminate confusion for beginners. Start with a few birds at a time; it won’t be long before students can identify most count station visitors.

Project FeederWatch across the Curriculum

Here are a few ideas for using Project FeederWatch in other areas of instruction. Some of these ideas were drawn from the Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears website (URL listed below).

Mathematics

  • Percent—what percent of birds visiting are a specific species
  • Mean/Median/Mode—comparing group sizes over the course of the season
  • Graphing—how many birds of each species
  • Graphing—food preferences
  • Weight—how much food do the birds eat in one day?

 

Social Studies

  • Geography—how does geography influence the species seen at that location?
  • History—John James Audubon, other figures related to bird conservation

 

Project FeederWatch and Literature (suggestions below) and Writing

  • Read and compare fiction and nonfiction titles related to birds
  • Write a report on favorite bird
  • Read and write poetry about birds

 

Book Suggestions and Free Curriculum Resources

  • Nest, Nook & Cranny, by Susan Blackaby (poetry)
  • Outside Your Window, by Nicola Davies (poetry)
  • Look Up! Bird Watching in Your Own Backyard, by Annette LeBlanc Cate (nonfiction)
  • Bird, Butterfly, Eel, by James Prosek (nonfiction)
  • A Home for Bird, by Phillip C. Stead (fiction)
  • Welcome, Brown Bird, by Mary Lyn Ray (fiction)

 

BirdSleuth K-12 resources from Cornell Lab of Ornithology can be found at the following address: http://www.birdsleuth.org/free-resources/

Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears has an entire list of mathematics activities related to FeederWatch. Their website is a great science resource. http://beyondpenguins.ehe.osu.edu/issue/arctic-and-anarctic-birds/project-feederwatch-integrating-real-time-science-and-math