I just signed up for it, and you can, too! Project FeederWatch is a winter-long survey of birds that visit feeders at backyards, nature centers, community areas, and other locales in North America.

Participants periodically count the birds they see at their feeders from November through early April and send their counts to Project FeederWatch by inputting the data online. FeederWatch data help scientists track movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance.

This citizen-scientist project is operated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada. Anyone interested in birds can participate including children, families, individuals, classrooms, retired persons, youth groups, nature centers, and bird clubs.

Participants watch their feeders as much or as little as they want over two consecutive days as often as every week (less often is fine). They count birds that appear in their count site that are attracted by something that the participant provided (such as plantings, food, or water).

FeederWatch data show which bird species visit feeders at thousands of locations across the continent every winter. The data also indicate how many individuals of each species are seen. This information can be used to measure changes in the winter ranges and abundance of bird species over time.

What sets FeederWatch apart from other monitoring programs is the detailed picture that FeederWatch data provide about weekly changes in bird distribution and abundance across the United States and Canada. Importantly, FeederWatch data tell us where birds are as well as where they are not. This crucial information enables scientists to piece together the most accurate population maps.

Project FeederWatch had its roots in Ontario in the mid-1970s. Through Canadaís Long Point Bird Observatory, Dr. Erica Dunn established the Ontario Bird Feeder Survey in 1976.

After a successful 10-year run with more than 500 participants, its organizers realized that only a continental survey could accurately monitor the large-scale movements of birds. Therefore, Long Point Bird Observatory decided to expand the survey to cover all of North America.

Realizing they would need a strong partner in this venture, Long Point approached the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and a perfect match was soon made. The Labís connection to thousands of bird enthusiasts across the United States, its sophisticated computer systems, and Long Pointís experience at managing feeder surveys made Project FeederWatch a hit from the start.

During that first year, more than 4,000 people enrolled. FeederWatchers represented every state in the U.S. (except Hawaii) and most provinces in Canada, especially Ontario. The dream to systematically survey winter feeder birds over a wide geographic range was in place.

As of the 26th season (2012-13), the number of participants involved in FeederWatch had grown to more than 20,000. Project FeederWatch continues to be a cooperative research project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada (formerly the Long Point Bird Observatory).

Today, FeederWatch is a proven tool for monitoring the distribution and abundance of winter bird populations. I just signed up to participate, and you can too! Check out http://feederwatch.org/ for details.

Do you think nature should be part of our everyday life, not just somewhere to go on the weekends? Attend our free, open-to-the-public, monthly program on the fourth Monday of the month at 7 pm at the Red Oak Library, 200 Lakeview Pkwy, Red Oak, TX. For more information on the Indian Trail Master Naturalist Chapter, contact the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service at 972-825-5175 or visit our website: http://txmn.org/indiantrail/ .