FeederWatch in the Classroom: Next Gen Birders


February 2, 2018

This season’s BirdSpotter contest celebrated teachers and students who love birds. Over the course of the contest, we selected three teachers who use FeederWatch as a way to engage students with hands-on science. Winners received goodies from the Cornell Lab and a gift card from our sponsor Wild Birds Unlimited.

Congratulations to Jennifer Ford and her eighth-grade science students at Farnsworth Middle School in Guilderland, New York! Jennifer’s interest in birding started at a young age; her parents were lifelong birders. At the suggestion of a friend, she discovered FeederWatch and began counting at her home feeders. Jennifer quickly realized that adding FeederWatch to her science classes would be a great opportunity for her students to participate in a science project that extends beyond their local community. She wrote, “My students and I are in our fourth year of bird counting and absolutely love it!”

Jennifer works to incorporate more than just bird counts into her classroom. Her students are completing a yearlong research project. Many of the students are asking questions related to birds and bird feeding. They are using FeederWatch data to answer such questions as: What types of bird seed to birds prefer? What types of bird feeders do birds prefer? Do different types of bird seed attract different birds? Does the placement of a bird feeder affect how many birds visit it? Does weather affect the birds that visit a bird feeder?

“I also integrate the feeders into many of my lessons as ‘teachable moments,’” she wrote. “For example, when we talk about invasive species, we do research on the House Sparrows at our feeders. A hawk visiting the feeders leads to a discussion on food webs. When we talk about adaptations, I point out the birds visiting the feeders and ask students to brainstorm how these birds survive our cold winters.”

In addition to her own projects, Jennifer noted, “The math teacher that I collaborate with does a statistics project with our students. This year, we are teaming up to have students look at our current and past FeederWatch data.”

Having the feeders where students can view them at all times is helpful and allows for her class to ask great questions. Also, near the bird-watching area (pictured above) Jennifer has a host of resources available for students including: age-appropriate field guides, binoculars, and bird flashcards.

The classroom windows face a wooded area and a pond. The feeders host a diversity of birds including: Black-capped Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches, Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays, Tufted Titmice, Mourning Doves, Dark-eyed Juncos, and a three different woodpecker species. Her students enjoy the jays and cardinals whose colors brighten the winter days. Jennifer added, “One year we had a Sharp-shinned Hawk hanging around near the feeders, and my students found that to be quite exciting!”

A sure sign that her students enjoy the birds, some join Jennifer at lunchtime to watch the feeders. “I have students who voluntarily spend lunch periods with me,” she shared, “because they would rather watch the birds while eating lunch than sitting in a cafeteria.”

Thanks to all the teachers who shared their FeederWatch in the Classroom experience! We are inspired by your enthusiasm and creativity.

“Bold, Bright, and Beautiful” BirdSpotter People’s Choice Winner!


February 9, 2018

Congratulations to our BirdSpotter People’s Choice winner Laura Frazier, of Middleway, WV, for this colorful photo of an Indigo Bunting! Laura snapped this photo of the bunting singing away on a rainy day at McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area in Montgomery County, MD.

She says “The WMA is 2000 acres, and they plant Sunflowers to help feed the wildlife. Every summer it is a popular place to go when the 30 acres of Sunflowers are in full bloom at the end of July/early August. The morning I went out there, it began to rain, so I had whole field all to myself and got to watch an abundance of Indigo Buntings, Eastern Phoebes, and American Goldfinches flying around the flowers, feeding, or just sitting and singing away. It rained pretty hard most of the time I was out there, but the birds didn’t seem to mind. I’m sure I looked quite funny trying to hold an umbrella and take photos of birds at the same time, but I had an amazing time out there!”

If you’re looking to find an Indigo Bunting, search in weedy and brushy areas, especially in edge habitat where fields meet forests. They eats insects, seeds, and berries, and can be attracted to your backyard with thistle or nyjer seed.

Monday, February 12th, is the first day to submit a photo to the final BirdSpotter category Eyewitness. Biweekly People’s Choice and Judges’ Choice winners receive prizes from the Cornell Lab and our sponsor, Wild Birds Unlimited. Anyone can participate by entering a photo and voting for their favorites! Find out more about the BirdSpotter contest.

“Bold, Bright, and Beautiful” BirdSpotter Judges’ Choice Winner!


February 12, 2018

Congratulations to our BirdSpotter People’s Choice winner Linda Petersen, of Terril, IA, for this striking photo of a Baltimore Oriole! Linda says “I enjoy photographing birds in my yard during spring migration, and try to capture them sitting on a nice perch. This one finally cooperated.”

Baltimore Orioles are common over the eastern United States and parts of southern Canada, and sometimes into the central part of the continent. A popular way to attract them to your yard is to put out orange halves, or a special sugar water feeder that mimics collecting nectar from flowers. Plants with bright fruits and flowers will also help attract them to your yard, such as trumpet vines and crabapples.

Now is the time to submit your photo to the final BirdSpotter category Eyewitness. Biweekly People’s Choice and Judges’ Choice winners receive prizes from the Cornell Lab and our sponsor, Wild Birds Unlimited. Anyone can participate by entering a photo and voting for their favorites! Find out more about the BirdSpotter contest.

Bird Rescue Celebrates 40 Years With Dawn, Procter And Gamble


No one wishes for oil spills. Not petroleum companies, and certainly not those of us who care about the environment. But spills do happen, and one particularly bad spill occurred in 1971 right outside San Francisco Bay. When bad things happen, good people respond. A group of concerned local citizens trooped down to beaches and shoreline all around the Golden Gate and San Francisco Bay in a desperate attempt to rescue thousands of birds covered in oil.

Dawn is holding a 40-year celebration at Grand Central Station’s Vanderbilt Hall in New York City.

After that first oil spill, we explored many different ways to clean oil off of aquatic birds. Seven years later, in 1978, International Bird Rescue started what would become a 40-year relationship (and counting) with Procter and Gamble. Through trial, error, and our tenacity to find a solution, we discovered that Procter and Gamble’s Dawn dish soap, was the golden ticket! It was inexpensive, effective, readily available, and Procter and Gamble was excited to learn about this somewhat unusual use of their product.

Since then, Procter and Gamble have become one of our biggest supporters, donating countless bottles of Dawn dish soap to us, and committing hundreds of thousands of dollars to support our wildlife rehabilitation, research, and spill response work.

Fortunately, our 47 years of work has helped improve emergency response techniques and outcomes for oiled wildlife across the globe. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of other threats to aquatic birds. Rescuing birds negatively affected by urban wildlife conflicts such as habitat loss, cruelty, and fishing entanglements (from hooks, lines, and nets) is an ever-increasing volume of our work.

See: History of DAWN helping save wildlife

We can all take action every day to make a difference and improve the  human impact on aquatic birds by opting for wooden stir sticks (instead of plastic) at the local coffee shop, using reusable water bottles (instead of single-use plastic bottles), making sure to never litter, and by donating to International Bird Rescue. Join us, and we can all continue this life-saving work. To learn more about becoming a corporate sponsor, click here.

Cleaning oiled wildlife at the 2010 Deepwater Gulf Oil Spill in Louisiana.


On the Lookout: BirdSpotter Data Entry Winner


February 16, 2018

| Carolina Wrens by Judith Beck |

For the second season in a row, Cornell Lab and our sponsor Wild Birds Unlimited are rewarding registered FeederWatchers with BirdSpotter prizes. After entering bird counts (aka data) into the FeederWatch website, participants have the opportunity to share a story, memory, or tip. Our fourth and final Data Entry contest prompt was:

Today is the day to FeederWatch! Do you kick back in a comfortable chair and enjoy a cup of coffee or is your feeder near the office window and you watch as you work? Describe how FeederWatch adds something special to your day.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird by Judith Beck

Congratulations to our randomly selected winner, Judith Beck! Judith spends her days watching for birds out of one of her eight windows facing three separate feeding stations. She is vigilant about keeping an eye on those birds! She writes:

My FeederWatch day starts with my view of the back and side yards as soon as the sun comes up… As I go about my day at home I am on constantly looking out of the windows. If I am eating a meal, I have my eyes on the feeders looking outside while I eat. But, I do stop for periods of time just staring at the birds. I pick up my Canon 70D and zoom in for lots of bird shots! I am totally addicted to bird watching. Participating in Project FeederWatch makes me focus on the amount of birds that I see. And, counting all of the different species of birds has perked my interest in looking for new species.

Thanks to everyone who participated and shared their stories! Interested in becoming a FeederWatcher? Join the fun and you could win great prizes!

Seabird E-murre-gency: Meet Mara


August 21, 2018

Seabird E-murre-gency: Meet Mara

Meet Mara:

Young murres like Mara have been flooding our Northern California wildlife center for the past two months. Little Mara was named after her quick-thinking rescuer who was taking a morning walk on the beach and spotted something peculiar bobbing in the water – it looked like a tiny penguin. Springing into action, she found a passerby to hold her dogs while she rescued the confused and weak baby murre. Like the scores of young murre chicks in our care, Mara was found healthy, yet abandoned. This raises the question – what happened to her parents? Did her parents die from environmental causes? Baby murres like Mara learn to forage from their fathers. Without that guidance if left alone in the wild, they would slowly starve to death.

We have seen an alarming uptick in Common Murres coming into our center. Many were starving, and some were contaminated with oil. Since mid-July, over 100 murres have been admitted into intensive care at our San Francisco Bay-Delta wildlife center in Fairfield, California.

“E-Murre-gency” declared as unprecedented numbers of Common Murres need extensive care. This is a critical moment for waterbirds. From Brown Pelicans unexpectedly falling from the skies to polluted oceans and depleted fish stocks, this has been a challenging season. Increasing environmental challenges mean Bird Rescue is always responding to unexpected situations and struggling to absorb the costs.

We Need Your Help!
Bird Rescue needs to raise $100,000 by August 31st to help with the unexpected burden of caring for many additional birds beyond our budget. Thanks to an anonymous donor, for a limited time your donation will be matched dollar for dollar up to $50,000. Take action and donate now to save twice as many injured or orphaned birds, like Mara!

We dream of a world in which every person, every day takes action to protect the natural home of wildlife and ourselves. Thank you for helping us make that vision a reality.

With Gratitude,
The Bird Rescue Team


An Update on Mara the Murre


August 24, 2018

An Update on Mara the Murre

Mara is spending time with a rescued adult murre who is acting as a surrogate parent during her recovery. Photo by Cheryl Reynolds/International Bird Rescue

Dear Supporters,

Thanks to people like you, Mara is slowly recovering from starvation. We’re hand-feeding her every day, filling in for the role her father would have played. She’s also swimming with a rescued adult murre who is acting as a surrogate parent during her recovery. We continue to monitor her progress daily, but it will be many weeks before Mara is strong enough to be released. Continued care for birds like Mara is expensive which is why we still need your help.

Thanks to generous donations made by many individuals and our matching donor, we are almost halfway to our $100,000 goal. As we provide intensive care for an unprecedented number of waterbirds like Mara, the E-murre-gency continues to unfold.

Waterbirds in Crisis
In light of recent government decisions to loosen environmental regulations, NBC-TV Bay Area visited our SF Bay-Delta wildlife center to report first hand about the effects these decisions are having on marine life, including waterbirds like Mara. When the government steps back from environmental protections, non-profits like International Bird Rescue and concerned individuals like you, must STEP UP to fill the gap. We can’t do it alone.

We need to raise $100,000 to cover the cost of this crisis and reach our goal. Please donate today by visiting our Giving Grid campaign or donate directly through our website, and share this message with your friends. All donations made today will be matched dollar for dollar, doubling your impact.

For all those who have already given, thank you for your support – we couldn’t do this work without you. We dream of a world in which every person, every day, takes action to protect the natural home of wildlife and ourselves. Thank you for continuing to help us make that vision a reality.


The Bird Rescue Team


Why do Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers look so similar when they aren’t close relatives?


February 19, 2018

By Gavin Leighton

Although most birds of North America are incredibly diverse, some species look very, very similar. One pair of species that look surprisingly similar are Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers. When two species look similar to one another, it’s not a stretch to assume they have a close evolutionary relationship. But in the case of Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers—two of North America’s most famous tricky ID species—it turns out they aren’t all that closely related. Hairy Woodpeckers are more closely related to the very different-looking White-headed and Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, while Downy’s closest relatives are Ladder-backed and Nuttall’s. This suggests that Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers look like one another for reasons other than common ancestry. And as a scientist, I wanted to figure out why.

Testing Hypotheses with Feeder Watch Data

Scientists have speculated that Downy Woodpeckers might benefit from looking like Hairy Woodpeckers. Why? Because if a Hairy Woodpecker misidentifies a Downy as a Hairy, maybe it would be less likely to chase the Downy away from food or other valuable resources (let’s call this the “Hairy Woodpecker Trickery” hypothesis).

This idea had been proposed but never tested. So, using behavioral interaction data collected by FeederWatch participants, a research team (myself, Alex Lees, and Eliot Miller) at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology tested whether Downy Woodpeckers suffered less aggression from Hairy Woodpeckers than would be expected if their encounters were random. Contrary to the expectations of the “Hairy Woodpecker Trickery” hypothesis, we found that Hairy Woodpeckers chased Downy Woodpeckers away from feeders at least as much as you would expect based on random encounters.

This led us to test a different idea: maybe the similarity fools species other than Hairy Woodpeckers. Recent research based on FeederWatch data determined that Downy Woodpeckers are especially dominant for their size—that is, they can win at scuffles involving some species much larger than themselves (like Northern Cardinals, for example, which weigh almost twice as much as a Downy). Read more about Downy dominance here.

How can they pull this off? Downy Woodpeckers may use their resemblance to Hairy Woodpeckers to fool other species into thinking they are the bigger Hairy Woodpecker (let’s call this the Innocent Bystander Trickery hypothesis). Think of it this way: If you were a cardinal and thought you saw a Hairy Woodpecker flying toward you, you might be very quick to get out of the way. The pattern was subtle, so more observations are needed to confirm the idea, but it is thanks to FeederWatchers that we have such a good start.

What’s Next?

Now that we have some evidence that Downy Woodpeckers may be fooling species other than Hairy Woodpeckers, we are considering ways to test the finding in the field. One option is to look at Hairy and Downy Woodpecker interactions at feeders in the few places where these species do not overlap in distribution, such as Florida and parts of the Southwest. If you want to contribute to this dataset in any location, consider trying FeederWatch. Sign up here.

Which species is in the photo at the top of this article?

In case you were wondering, that is a Hairy Woodpecker. It’s not always easy to tell when they aren’t side-by-side! One clue is in the tail feathers – notice how the edges are white without any black markings. Thank you to Mike Bons for sharing this gorgeous photo with Project FeederWatch.

Research paper: Leighton, GM, AC Lees, ET Miller. 2018. The hairy-downy game revisited: an empirical test of the interspecific social dominance mimicry hypothesis. Animal Behavior 137:141-148.

E-murre-gency Sparks Seabird Media Attention


August 28, 2018

E-murre-gency Sparks Seabird Media Attention

Common Murre chicks first day of waterproofing in pool. Photo by Cheryl Reynolds 7/24/18.

August hasn’t been a great month for starving seabirds, but the good news is the media has been shining a light on this crisis. Television and print media has provided outstanding coverage to educate the public about Common Murre and Northern Fulmars affected by changes in ocean environments. Donate

We suspect the surge in starving seabirds that we’ve seen at our California centers is part of a larger environmental problem. From warming oceans to depleted fish stocks, to large-scale seabird die-offs in Alaska, waterbirds are responding to their environments and the results are alarming. To see a list of news articles covering the current #emurregency at International Bird Rescue, see below.

Here’s a list of the top reports:

San Francisco Chronicle: El Niño fears grow as starving baby birds wash up on California beaches

NBC-TV: Alarming Number of Starving Seabirds Dying on Bay Area Beaches

KSBW-TV: Baby ‘penguins’ appearing on Central Coast beaches

Mercury News: California bird rescue group inundated with injured, starving waterbirds

ABC-TV: Starving, abandoned baby murres washing ashore in Bay Area

KCBS Radio: Starving Birds Could Mean El Nino is Coming

Emurregency: Mara the Murre Update #2


September 7, 2018

Emurregency: Mara the Murre Update #2

This young Common Murre, named “Mara”  has put on much needed weight. Photo by Cheryl Reynolds/International Bird Rescue

Why how she’s grown!

Mara the murre has tripled in weight since she was rescued in Marin County in late July. She arrived into care hungry and anemic and weighing only 240 grams. Her latest weight: 720 grams.

This Common Murre was named for one of our volunteers who was walking her dogs on the beach and spotted the very small bird bobbing in the surf. Thinking fast, the rescuer asked a passerby to secure her dogs and then scooped up the seabird. Afterward she called Marin Animal Control and the bird was transferred to our San Francisco Bay-Delta wildlife center in Fairfield, California..

The young seabird quickly became the bird ambassador for a seabird crisis that has been hitting the Northern California coast. Since mid-July, over 100 murres (rhymes with “furs”) have been admitted into intensive care. Many were starving, anemic and some were contaminated with oil.

After leaving the nest, Baby murres like Mara learn to forage with their fathers. Without parental guidance, and if left alone in the wild, they would slowly starve to death.

You can help birds like Mara by donating to our E-Murre-gency fund to help pay the extraordinary costs associated with this seabird stranding event. Donate now