Judd Hurley, left, and Jenna Curtis point out birds as Christine Rounseville, lower left, and Susan Dahoda use their binoculars at a Project FeederWatch count at Jefferson Nature Center in Medford. - Andy Atkinson photo

Pecking order

Neither freezing fog nor threat of a fast-swooping Cooper's hawk seem to deter the hundreds of birds that visited the feeders in a single hour at the Jefferson Nature Center on this early December morning.

Tucked in between the Harry & David ball fields and riparian forest and wetlands lining Bear Creek, the center sits at the intersection of a variety of habitats, making it a virtual crossroads for many bird species.

Indoors, six amateur ornithologists from the Rogue Valley Audubon Society, armed with binoculars, follow the flapping and jostling at nine birdfeeders through a plate-glass window.

"We don't scare the birds, and we stay warm," says Gaylene Hurley, explaining the group's preference to count birds from the comfort of the great indoors.

"This is taking place all over the U.S.," Hurley explains. "We record the largest number of each species seen at any one time."

"This" is Project FeederWatch, now in its eighth year in the Rogue Valley. This effort, jointly managed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, lays claim to the title of the world's largest citizen-science project.

"All the information we record — species and number — is sent in to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology," says Judd Hurley, Gaylene's husband. "It goes from November to March each Saturday and alternates between Jefferson Nature Center and North Mountain Park."

For one new birder, today's activity provides an opportunity to discover that a bird is more than just a bird.

"I like to watch the birds in my backyard," says Medford resident Bill Foy. "To me, they're just birds, so I want to learn the names, so when one pushes another off the feeder sack, I'll know which ones they are."

Today is Foy's third time attending Project FeederWatch. It's definitely not the last. Like other beginning birders, he's learning tips to identify commonly seen species from veteran birders.

A house finch pecks at a feeder. A white-breasted nuthatch nudges woodchips on the ground below. A downy woodpecker rushes in and halts to inspect a suet bag. Many species coexist in this planned cornucopia.

"They all have their own niche," Gaylene Hurley explains.

Judd Hurley has stocked as many of the niches as possible. Earlier this morning, he threw seed on the ground below the feeders. His efforts have attracted the attention of a speckled brown mourning dove. The onlookers begin to coo, anticipating an onslaught.

Sure enough, more and more doves touch down and soon the flock peaks at 27, the most of any species seen at one time today. The number 27 is entered on a data sheet beside the name of this species.

Between 9 and 10 o'clock, the group identifies 19 species. For beginning birders, it's an opportunity to add a few species to a life list, including the gray-bellied, brown-backed Bewick's wren, a species seen infrequently in Jackson County.

Medford resident Susan Dahoda is attending Project FeederWatch for her first time.

"This place is amazing," says Dahoda. "I live five minutes away. I could get here on the Greenway."

Though not currently an Audubon member, Dahoda vows, "I think now it's going to happen."

For many birders, these weekly hour-long observations are warm-ups for an annual event that began in the year 1900: The Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count (CBC). From Dec. 14 to Jan. 5, many thousands of birders all over the United States will count birds and send the results to the National Audubon Society.

Local counting for the CBC will occur be tomorrow, Saturday, Dec. 17, and will include eight teams of birders — including a team at Jefferson Nature Center.

Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. You can reach him at

Share This Story