SPEAKER: My husband was running the Long Point Bird Observatory, and it was really just him and a secretary and me as a volunteer. We started several volunteer projects, but the Ontario Bird Feeder Survey was really the first one that we started. We wanted something to do in the winter, when the birds [? weren't ?] migrating. And everybody likes looking at bird feeders, and we thought there was something you could find out.
I remember we put advertisements in local newspapers throughout the provinces as a way of, you know, inviting people to take part. We had no idea what kind of response we'd get. I think the first year it was about a hundred people, largely local. But I think within three or four years, it was up to 500 across the province. So that was really exciting.
And when we started, we weren't sure what we would get out of it. The first couple of years, we were just adding up the numbers that were sent in on paper forms, punching them into an adding machine. After about three or four years, I think we got access to a punch card machine, so we could punch the numbers in instead of putting them in the adding machine, and that allowed us to analyze things a lot more quickly.
So I did that for 10 years before it turned into a Project FeederWatch. In 1986, I think, was the beginning of FeederWatch. Well, I took the Ontario Bird Feeder Survey-- at that time-- to Cornell, said, would you like to expand it into the US? And said, if you do it, I'd really like to be involved, and of course, did the FeederWatch for six years at Cornell.
I think the real turning point came when the internet came, because you can collect the data, get it right directly into the computer, and analyze it so quickly. It just wasn't possible in the 60s and 70s to have a big project. So the power of citizen science is now so much greater than it ever was, and especially now that Cornell is doing some of these amazing analyses and mapping stuff that's, you know, way beyond what I ever learned to do. I think the prospects for these kind of meta-analyses, if you will, of different kinds of surveys are going to produce exciting things in the future.
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FeederWatch had its beginnings in the Ontario Bird Feeder Survey, recalls Dr. Erica Dunn, who founded the survey and led Project FeederWatch for its first six years. By Krishna Ramanujan, Cornell Chronicle, and Bill McQuay, Cornell Lab of Ornithology.