Monday, October 06, 2008

Project FeederWatch: Database Integrity

I signed up for Project FeederWatch today. I’ve never been a FeederWatch participant, but have always been under the assumption that it was a worthwhile citizen-science project that yielded useful information on winter bird populations.

After signing up, I went to the “Explore Data” section of the FeederWatch web site, as suggested in their press release. Once there, I pulled up a summary for the State of Michigan for 2007-2008. Imagine my surprise upon finding records of Common Ground-Dove (showing an “average group size when seen” of 14.1) and Black-billed Magpie (with an “average group size” of 11.0)! Both of these species are on the Michigan Bird Records Committee’s “Review List.” Their searchable database shows three records of Common Ground-Dove (most recently in 2000) and eight records of Black-billed Magpie (most recently in December 2006-January 2007), with no more than a single individual of each species reported during each sighting.

Other questionable species listed for the 2007-2008 count from Michigan include Mountain Chickadee, Juniper Titmouse, Black-crested Titmouse, Pygmy Nuthatch, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Cactus Wren, and Pyrrhuloxia. Needless to say, there are no confirmed records of any of those species in Michigan.

While I still believe that Project FeederWatch provides useful information on winter populations of common winter birds, internal controls (such as those instituted for eBird and the Great Backyard Bird Count) need to be put into place before such dubious records as those noted above make it into their online database.

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