About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

New Research: Now we know who’s who at the feeder

Did you ever wonder how many chickadees are visiting your feeders throughout the day or how many sunflower seeds they take away? By using a technology called RFID (radio frequency identification) lots of questions about birds at feeders now have answers.

RFID is a technology that uses communication through the use of radio waves to transfer data between a reader (a wired-up “smart” bird feeder) and an PIT tag (a passive integrated transponder tag that weighs less than 0.1 gram, taped to a band on the bird’s leg) for the purpose of identification and tracking. The “smart” feeder records second-by-second behaviors of tagged birds, revealing how weather, competition, and habitat affect birds’ activities.

In a recent study, David Bonter, Project FeederWatch director at the Cornell Lab volunteered a lucky 129 songbirds including the Black-capped Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches, Tufted Titmice, and House Finches to participate.

Bonter and Ben Zuckerberg (Research Associate in Citizen Science) initiated the RFID study of common feeder birds at several study sites in the Ithaca, New York area. Some of the early results of a five-month pilot study this past winter reveal:

“Individual birds took up to 203 seeds in a single day (some of these they almost certainly cached for later in the season).

Most chickadees had favorite feeders—one or two locations they habitually visited even though several other feeders were available within the typical home-range area of a chickadee.

Over three months, a single Tufted Titmouse drifted through the woods, frequenting three feeders one after another across a distance of more than half a mile.

A Black-capped Chickadee spent two months visiting a feeder daily, then abruptly moved nearly a half-mile away to a different feeder.”(1)

This incredibly detailed information will help with future studies and answer what is the best place for a feeder, when is the best time to watch the birds feed,  feeding patterns related to gender and dominance status, bird survival, disease transmission, and much more.

1. Feeders of the Future - http://www.allaboutbirds.org/page.aspx?pid=2147
2. Technology automatically tracking feeder visits - http://www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw/News/RFID.html

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