Jan 03 2012

Really Know Your Feeder Birds

Published by at 7:20 am under Songbirds

Did you ever wonder if it’s the same chickadee visiting your feeder time after time … or one of his relatives?  How many trips does he make every day?  Does he stay away longer when the weather’s nice?  How long?

These questions puzzled the Cornell Lab of Ornithology so Dr. David Bonter of Project Feeder Watch and a team of students to set up special bird feeders and banded the local feeder birds with radio frequency identification tags.

First invented in the 1970’s RFID tags are tiny chips that broadcast unique numbers, one number per chip.  Anyone with a scanner can read the chip’s code.  The chips are so small they can be used to catalog merchandise or be inserted just under the skin of pets to identify them if lost.  My cat got her “chip” at the animal shelter before I adopted her.  If she’s ever lost a shelter can scan her chip, look her up in the cat database, and reunite us.

Cornell Lab taped RFID chips to the birds’ bands, then replaced the perches on their feeders with a coil of wire that can “read” the chips and record the date, time and chip code of each banded bird.  When they download the data they find out who visited the feeder and how often.

They know their feeder birds as individuals now and have the answers to those puzzling questions I asked above.

Watch the video and see.

(video from Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Really Know Your Feeder Birds”

  1. Sandra F.on 03 Jan 2012 at 8:33 pm

    Oh, yeah. My geeky side was waiting for this. Just imagine the day when we can instantly get an ID on a PF as it perches at a nesting site. Way more exciting (to me) than my employer knowing that I’ve entered or exited the building….

  2. Joshon 14 Jan 2012 at 12:50 pm

    Hi Kate, I just read your comments about chickadees on the PA bird list and just wanted to let you know that I’ve heard that interbreeding is the “short answer” to the question of species whereas the long answer involves a combination of breeding, genetics, and other factors. Otherwise actual hybridization would be impossible and things would start to get really crazy. Bottom line though, I still agree that the whole thing is pretty absurd and arbitrary.

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