Don't be discouraged by inexperience. Count groups are set up so that each group has at least one experienced birder. This ensures accuracy of bird identification and enables veteran birders to encourage beginners.
Another winterlong backyard citizen science project is the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Project FeederWatch. From the comfort of cozy living rooms, participants simply count birds at feeders.
Thanks to last year's results, I can be quite specific about what species you can expect. Assuming you have suitable habitat with at least a few trees and shrubs for cover, you can expect 15 to 20 species over the course of the winter.
Based on data submitted from 5,120 northeastern sites last year, expect to see chickadees (black-capped or Carolina, depending on your location), dark-eyed juncos, mourning doves, downy woodpeckers, blue jays, American goldfinches, northern cardinals, and white-breasted nuthatches. These eight species were reported at 80 percent or more of the northeastern FeederWatch sites last year.
This year is also shaping up to be good for irruptive migrants such as red-breasted nuthatches and pine siskins. I've had as many as 20 siskins at my feeders since early November. And for the first time in nearly 20 years evening grosbeaks are being widely reported in the northeast, though I'm still waiting for grosbeaks to visit my feeders.
Launched in 1987, Project FeederWatch compiles information gathered by volunteers from all across North America. Last year 112,774 checklists were submitted from the U.S. and Canada. FeederWatch volunteers devote just a few minutes every week or two to identify and tally the birds that visit their feeders. No special knowledge is required because the material provided to volunteers include posters that facilitate bird identification. The best time to see the most birds at feeders is on cold, snowy mornings.
To become a FeederWatch volunteer, visit www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw, or call 800-843-2473 during normal business hours, or send a check to Project FeederWatch, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, P.O. Box 11, Ithaca, NY 14851-0011. The $15 fee ($12 for Lab of Ornithology members) covers all materials, data analysis, and publication of each year's results.
Send questions and comments to Dr. Scott Shalaway, RD 5, Cameron, WV 26033 or email via my website, http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com.