Video data

The best thing about using video data is the pause button. Birds – especially tiny songbirds – are small and speedy, and sometimes collecting a minute’s worth of data from a video clip could take almost five minutes. Too often I would have to back up and rewatch a few seconds – was that a white throated sparrow or a house finch? Carolina chickadee or white-breasted nuthatch? Although the video taken from the field sites offered advantages – we could collect data whenever it was convenient instead of having to do field observations at a set time every day – sometimes it was hard to decide which option was better. In the field, blinking or sneezing might mean missing a chickadee’s stop-and-go visit. On the computer screen, the imperfect resolution might mean misidentifying a bird.

Still, I enjoyed watching the videos of the birds at the feeders. I learned a lot about the behaviors of each different species from the hours of watching their interactions. I saw how northern cardinals, beautiful red birds with black masks and intimidating crests, tended to dominate the feeder; they were rarely displaced by other birds except of their own species. Carolina chickadees preferred to fly to the feeder, grab a single sunflower seed, and leave, presumably cracking it on a tree branch nearby or storing it in a cache in a tree cavity. I also began to notice larger patterns that indicated what groups of birds liked to forage together. And another great thing about videos instead of field observations was knowing that my presence wasn’t affecting the birds. They’d had plenty of time to acclimate to the cameras strapped on the pole near the feeder, and seeing as they frequently perched on (and pooped on) the cameras, it seems a safe bet that their behavior wasn’t significantly altered by the presence of the equipment.