Volunteers needed – help observe birds cache from your feeder

Discover how you can get involved in a new study monitoring caching behaviour in a range of familiar garden birds

Passionate about birds and their behaviour? Want to contribute to science? Researchers from Newcastle University and Durham University have an exciting opportunity for you to join us as a garden bird observation volunteer and help develop scientific research from the comfort of your own home. We are looking for volunteers to help us develop new protocols to answer some important questions about foraging and hoarding behaviour in common tit species. You do not need to be an expert to get involved and we would really appreciate your support!

Food-hoarding birds

Long nights, cold temperatures and a lack of food availability make surviving the winter a major challenge for bird species that remain at northern latitudes during winter. Some species address this problem by hoarding. You may have seen this first-hand, where birds such as coal tits, willow tits, or marsh tits move items from a food source to cache it in, for example, some moss, a tree or even a flower pot. To see an example of coal tits hoarding, check this video at the following times: 0:59, 1:21 and 2:52 minutes.

Our research

We are part of a research group at Newcastle University investigating how these birds decide when to hoard food. We want to know, among other questions, which environmental factors, like temperature and day length, influence hoarding behaviour. We will develop mathematical models that can help us answer these questions. To test if our models are correct, we need observational data from wild birds, which is where citizen science and volunteers are of key importance.

About this opportunity

In the first instance, we need to work out a data collection protocol that will work well in most gardens. We are therefore looking for a few keen volunteer bird watchers to try out observation protocols and help us refine them to be as simple and useful as possible. This will take place between January and April 2022. We will then optimize the protocol and recruit many more volunteers to start full data collection at the end of the summer. If you are keen on helping us out and fulfil the following requirements, please get in touch with us at v.a.vinken2@newcastle.ac.uk.  

What we are looking for:

  • You are an enthusiastic bird watcher and want to be part of ongoing science
  • Ideally, you are able to visually identify the following species: coal tit, blue tit, great tit, willow/marsh tit (don’t worry – you don’t have to tell the difference between willow and marsh tits, we’re putting these together as they’re tricky to separate!)
  • You have a feeder in your garden and are able to report the behaviour of birds visiting it
  • You are available at least one hour per week for most weeks between January and April 2022
  • You are keen to share your knowledge, opinion, and feedback with us, to help us improve our research

By participating in this project, you will take part in ongoing research. We will provide you with instructions and offer help identifying the behaviours and birds we are looking for. Finally, of course, we will keep you up to date on the progress of the research and our findings!