February 18, 2013

SUNY students play citizen scientists


---- — PLATTSBURGH — What happens when the Plattsburgh State Wildlife Club combines pine cones, peanut butter and seeds? 

The answer is bird feeders for the Great Backyard Bird Count, which began Friday and continues through today. 

The Bird Count is an annual event for citizen scientists to observe local bird populations and report their findings to 

Participants need to set up an account on the website and print out a checklist online. 


On Valentine’s Day, the Wildlife Club set up a table at the Angell College Center with a box of pine cones and a peanut-butter, sunflower-seed concoction to give the feeders substance. 

Club President Rory Carroll recommended that students hang the feeders in Rugar Woods or by the Saranac River Trail. 

“One of the goals of the club is to get students to actively participate in research and raise awareness of ecology on campus,” he said. 

It is important to keep track of bird populations because scientists cannot do all the work by themselves, Carroll said. 

There are too many birds in the world and only a handful of scientists. That is where citizens come in because they provide extra eyes for professional researchers.  

“It allows for many more eyes,” Carroll said. “It opens doors spatially and temporally. Involving citizens gets people interested in research.”


Carroll said participation is easy. All one needs to do is observe the birds that flock to their pine-cone feeders. Observers are not limited to the online printable checklists and can use a field guide and notebook for recording findings. 

According to the website, watchers count the individual birds of various species and can do so for a brief 15 minutes or as long as they choose during the event. 

Participants will be able to observe the changes in bird populations in the winter because climate is a factor that affects them, Carroll said. Increases and decreases in snow may affect food supply for birds in some areas.  

While the club has never participated in the Bird Count before, members plan to make bird feeders for years to come for future events.


SUNY Plattsburgh student Jimmy Burdock, a member of the Wildlife Club, stopped at the table to make four bird feeders. 

“I’m putting mine outside of Kent Hall,” he said. “I hope to see at least three birds that are not crows.”

Student Rebecca Allington was taking part so her observations could be beneficial to science in some way. 

“I hope to give them more data on what birds are in the area.”  

Ebonyrose Bellamy likes to watch birds, but she did not want to touch the peanut butter to make a feeder. 

“I like seeing the rhythms, because each bird has a different rhythm,” she said.  


Danielle Garneau, the faculty adviser of the Wildlife Club, is a member of Feederwatch, a bird-watching organization affiliated with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

“I’ve been doing a lot of citizen science stuff, and I like the direction that it’s going in,” she said. “It’s engaging to the everyday Joe and super easy to do.”  

SUNY Plattsburgh student Tim Maggio does not enjoy watching birds, but his dad does.

“I’m making a feeder in appreciation of my dad’s love of birds,” he said, holding up his freshly made feeder as peanut butter plopped to the floor.