North American Bird Phenology

NOWAWhile browsing the website of the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (which houses  the bird banding laboratory), I came across the North American Bird Phenology Program.  Phenology is the study between natural phenomena and seasonal or climatic changes.

This program seeks to catalog an almost-forgotten collection of  six million hand-written notecards documenting bird migration observation from the 1880s to 1970, when the card program ended.  At the height of the program, more than 3000 participants noted the arrival and departure dates of migrating birds each spring and fall.  The records are the major source of knowledge concerning migration and natural history, from World War II back to the latter part of the 19th century.

The project was started in 1881 by one man, Wells W. Cooke, who began noting arrival and departure dates of migrating birds on the White Earth Indian Reservation in Minnesota.  Cooke organized volunteers and in later years, attracted the interest and support of the Americna Ornithologists Union, which helped organize and run the program.  The program became a government project in the late 1880s and continued for many years, but was discontinued and shelved in 1970.

In 2003, Sam Droege took on the responsibility of finding a way to revive the program, and through his efforts and the efforts of others, the cards were moved to Patuxent and volunteers have been transcribing the cards to an online database.  You can read the whole story and learn more about the program on their website.

My point (I’m getting there) is that anyone can volunteer to participate.  Transcribing isn’t difficult, and there are three different training videos available to help volunteers with deciphering the cards. If a card comes up that is too difficult to read, you can opt to skip that one and get another. In addition, you can also choose to transcribe by species or state location as well.

I’ve signed up, of course.  I figured it’s a good project, and it’s going to be a long winter.


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