A Brief History of Feeder Watching at Mass Audubon

Though the northern cardinal and tufted titmouse are common yearlong residents of Massachusetts, it wasn't that long ago—the 1950s to be specific—when the sighting of either species was an unusual event.

In 1964, the Allen Bird Club began asking people in western Massachusetts to report sightings of both northern cardinal and tufted titmouse. The following year, Mass Audubon assumed responsibility for the project, expanding it New England-wide in the late 1960's.

A few years later, northern mockingbird, another relative latecomer to our local avian community, was added to the list. Thousands of records were submitted every year tracing the northward expansion of these three species, ostensibly in response to the moderating winters. The level of public interest was phenomenal!

In 1988, the Conservation Department at Mass Audubon expanded the reporting to all feeder birds seen during the winter on the first weekend in February. Checklists were published in newspapers across Massachusetts to encourage participation, and the effort succeeded spectacularly.

Department staff received thousands of responses, and summary reports were published in summer issues of Sanctuary magazine. So many responses were received that the capacity of the staff to analyze the information was overwhelmed, and after several years the project went into hibernation.

In 1997, Focus on Feeders re-emerged and has been operating continuously to the present day. A summary of past results can be viewed here.

In the more than 40 years since Mass Audubon began asking Massachusetts residents to report their observations, much has changed in the bird and birding landscape:

  • More species characteristic of southern climates have expanded into the state, such as Carolina wren and red-bellied woodpecker.
  • The Web has revolutionized communication and data reporting.
  • Various other organizations have added their own "feeder watch" programs.

As part of our effort to understand the status of the birds of Massachusetts, we continue to expand our efforts to engage volunteers to report on Massachusetts birdlife. The participation of thousands of people in these efforts continues to be crucial to accomplishing our bird conservation objectives, the most recent of which is the publication of the State of the Birds report, documenting every bird which can be seen in Massachusetts.

Mass Audubon is grateful for the dedication of all the volunteers who have given their time over the years to increase our knowledge of the birds of Massachusetts.