Project FeederWatch: Integrating Real-Time Science and Math

Project FeederWatch is a citizen science project operated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies Canada. Participants identify and count birds that visit feeders during the winter. Data is submitted to help scientists monitor bird populations across the North American continent.

In addition to involving students in real-time data collection, Project FeederWatch provides many possibilities for cross-curricular integrations. We’ve focused on math; many more content areas and suggestions appear on the Project FeederWatch web site. A newly launched Homeschooler’s Guide provides support for those participating outside a traditional classroom. Many of the activities in the guide could be modified for classroom use as well.


Data Collection

Students are required to keep accurate records of bird counts as they participate in the project. Teachers can use this project to teach elements of data analysis, including the creation of data tables and use of tally marks.

Data Analysis

Teachers can also have students analyze their data by creating bar graphs showing the various species that visit the feeder, line graphs that show the number of visits over the course of a week, and so on. This is also a way to teach concepts such as mean, median, and mode (number of visits, species) with real-world data.

Ratios, Fractions, Decimals, Percents

Bird data could also be used to illustrate ratios, fractions, decimals, and percents. For example, a student might notice that out of four birds to visit the feeder on a given day, one was a cardinal. The student could then express that data as a ratio, fraction, decimal, and percent.


Estimation is a difficult concept for elementary students, and many struggle with the real-world connection. Yet wildlife biologists often must estimate to obtain population numbers. Observing large groups of birds at a feeder may provide a “teachable moment” for practicing estimation skills.

Word Problems

Word (or story) problems are extremely challenging for students. Teachers often have students write their own problems to promote understanding or demonstrate mastery. Bird data collected from Project FeederWatch might provide perfect material for either teacher-written or student-written word problems, and students may have more success solving problems that stem from such a familiar context.

Basic Numeracy Skills

Of course, the collected data also provides an opportunity to practice basic skills such as addition (How many birds did we see in all?) and subtraction (How many more birds did we see today than yesterday?).

Measurement and Money

Students can weigh the birdseed before and after each count. BirdSleuth, a curriculum from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, suggests using these measurements to calculate the average consumption rate and predict how often the feeders need to be refilled. Students could also track the volume of birdseed before and after each count.

Another suggestion in the BirdSleuth curriculum is to have students plan the feeder design. This activity allows students to use a variety of measurements (length, height, and width) and even geometry concepts such as planes, shapes, and angles. Older students could also determine the cost of materials needed to create their feeder, incorporating concepts such as unit price and finding the best deal for the materials. Students could compare prices of birdseed from a variety of vendors, calculating the best unit price.


Project FeederWatch
The project home page provides links to instructions, a data entry portal, access to data, news, and educational resources.

This article was written by Jessica Fries-Gaither. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Kimberly Lightle, Principal Investigator, with any questions about the content of this site.

Copyright February 2009 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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